Pretty blossoming flowers and springtime are upon us. Sniffles begin. So how do you know if it’s truly allergies or a cold? It can get confusing trying to distinguish between the two, because they share many of the same symptoms.  The answer is in the symptoms.

If you have allergies, your immune system overreacts to normally harmless substances called “allergens”.  In response to this, the body release a chemical called “histamine” which leads to symptoms.  These allergens come from pollen, ragweed, grass, trees, blooming flowers, (as well as ongoing dust mites, animal dander, mold, mildew, that happen year round- but we are talking mainly about springtime allergies here).   Such symptoms include sneezing, itchy clear runny nose and throat,  itchy (sometimes red) watery eyes, congestion, fatigue and sometimes sore throat. Symptoms flare up as soon as you come in contact with the allergen.  Allergies typically occur in the warmer months, when the air is full of pollen.  Springtime allergies may last up to 6 weeks and are not contagious. Symptoms may improve with over-the-counter antihistamines.

While allergies are caused by allergens, colds are caused by viruses.  During a cold, your immune system attacks the virus.  Symptoms include sore throat, congestion, thicker mucus, stuffy  nose, cough,  and usually creep up over a few days.   Such symptoms typically run their course and can last up to 2 weeks. (The key point here is that symptoms of allergies and colds do not include high fever, discolored nasal mucus, severe fatigue, severe body aches, which can indicate the progression to  a sinus infection or flu, and need further evaluation.) Colds are more common in the winter months, and are contagious from someone who sneezes, coughs or touches you.

Colds may be treated with over- the- counter meds. Cortisone nasal sprays may be helpful for nasal symptoms. Otherwise, just stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.  And wash your hands!