Spring is my favorite season!! Winter is definitely over, the flowers are blooming...but so is the pollen! Allergy season begins in full swing for lots of suffering patients. One of the biggest challenges as a physician, is how to figure out if the patient's sinus congestion, sneezing, runny nose etc are truly from allergies or other viral respiratory infections (the common cold or COVID for example). But, there are some key differences to be aware of. Here are the 3 clues I use to differentiate seasonal allergies from a viral respiratory infection.
1. Duration of symptoms : One of the main differences between seasonal allergies and a cold is the duration of symptoms. A cold typically lasts for about a week, while allergy symptoms can last for several weeks or even months. Sometimes, the symptoms even wax and wane where people will feel like their "cold" has improved, only to have recurrent symptoms a few days or weeks later. If you have been experiencing symptoms for an extended period, it is more likely that you are dealing with allergies rather than a cold.
2. Itchy and watery eyes: Another symptom that is more commonly associated with allergies than a cold is itchy and watery eyes. Allergies can cause irritation in the eyes, leading to redness, itching, and tearing. Sometimes cold symptoms can cause conjunctivitis ("pink eye"), but the itchiness specifically tends to be more allergy-related.
3. Fever: Fever is another symptom that is more commonly associated with a cold than allergies. A cold can cause a mild fever, while allergies do not typically cause a fever. I've definitely had patients that feel subjective fevers/ chills from terrible allergies, but in general allergies will not cause a true elevated temperature.
In conclusion, there are several key differences between seasonal allergies and a common cold. If your symptoms have been present for an extended period, you are experiencing itchy and watery eyes, or you have a fever, it is more likely that you are dealing with a cold. However, if your symptoms have been present for a longer duration and you are not experiencing a fever, it is more likely that you are dealing with allergies. If you are unsure about your symptoms, it is always a good idea to chat with your doctor to figure it out.
And pro-tip: if you do have known seasonal allergies: don't wait until your allergies are full-blown to start treating it. At the first sign, it may be a good idea to initiate the allergy treatment that works for you (antihistamines for example). Trust me, you'll thank me later!