Sniffling and sneezing may seem like the telltale signs of the common cold, but this time of year, those symptomsalong with a sore throat, cough and headachescould just as easily signal the onslaught of seasonal allergies.
Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re one of the 35 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, correctly identifying your ailment could mean the difference between banishing your symptoms in days, rather than weeks. And because both colds and allergies can lead to more serious illnesses like asthma, sinus infections and middle-ear infections, it’s best to start treatment sooner rather than later.
“If you get what feels like a cold every year at the same time of year, it’s more likely to be allergies,” says Dr. Edward M. Kerwin, a practitioner at the Allergy & Asthma Center of Southern Oregon, in Medford (pop. 63,154). Repeated sneezing and a scratchy nose and throat are other signs that you may have an allergy rather than a cold, Kerwin says.
Duration of symptoms is another clue. Virus-induced colds usually run their course in three to seven days. Allergies, often an immune system response to an inhaled pollen or mold, can last for months.
The National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases lists other signs of airborne allergies: watery eyes, conjunctivitis (pinkeye), dark under-eye circles and, in children, a frequent upward rubbing of the nose that results in a crease mark on the nose. But if you have a low-grade fever or aches and pains, a cold probably is the culprit.
While colds generally require no medical attention, experts say if symptoms last longer than a week or two, you should see a doctor. If you suspect allergies are causing your misery, or you’re experiencing asthma symptoms such as severe coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, or have colored sinus drainage, see a doctor.
Most allergies can be diagnosed with skin or blood tests, and treated with over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Allergy shots are sometimes an option and are relatively affordable nowadays, Kerwin says, noting that a series of injections can sometimes send allergies into long-term remission.
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