How Do I Know If It’s Just a Cold or Seasonal Allergies?

by | Sep 25, 2023 | Allergies and Treatment

For some, it seems like allergy season is a year-round event. When symptoms strike, the most common assumption is that it’s a cold or mild respiratory infection when it really could be seasonal allergies or something else.

If you normally experience allergy or cold symptoms multiple times a year, read this to learn the signs, differences, and treatment considerations.

A Cold or Seasonal Allergies: How Do I Know?

Some allergic reactions take place at specific times of the year. People with allergies have sensitive immune systems that overreact when exposed to allergens or germs like pollen, dust, pet dander, molds, and dust. Their immune system releases histamines which are responsible for the physical effects allergy sufferers experience during allergy attacks or flares. Inflammation is also common when allergy symptoms flare. Seasonal allergy symptoms include swollen nasal tissues, congestion, red, itchy, or watery eyes, fatigue, and sore throat.

Colds tend to be more common during the spring and fall, but they can occur outside of those times as well. The common cold can affect anyone, regardless of their health. However, the risk is highest when immunity is low, or germ and pathogen exposure is high. The cold causes symptoms similar to allergies. Colds are contagious, especially during the first few days before symptoms appear.

The most common symptoms associated with the common cold include fever, nasal congestion, sore throat, fatigue, nasal discharge, and head pain. Colds usually go away without medical intervention or various over-the-counter medications in 3-4 days and are viral. However, symptoms are not always easy to manage with rest and time alone. Those experiencing prolonged cold symptoms (over 5 days) or complications should get medical care.

Colds lower the body’s immune defenses, increasing the likelihood of more severe ear, throat, and respiratory conditions like strep throat, sinusitis, or pneumonia. Though the most common signs of the common cold are sniffles, congestion, coughing, and fever, these symptoms, and headaches or facial pain are hallmark indicators of sinus infections.

Do Your Symptoms Mean Something Else?

The common cold and seasonal allergies mimic other respiratory infections, such as the flu and COVID. These are caused by viruses and are easily transmissible to others. Allergies, however, are not contagious. Sinus infections also cause similar symptoms and can be transmitted to others.

COVID symptoms include:

  • covid testFever
  • Body chills and/or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Throat pain
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore throat and cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Loss of taste or smell

It’s important to know the difference between COVID, flu, cold, sinus, and allergies to prevent prolonged suffering and complications.

Cold and allergy symptoms are remarkably similar and have different causes as their types and durations vary. Patients with these infections often require self-care and rest for symptom management. There are also remedies and over-the-counter medications available that reportedly shorten symptom duration and severity.

However, both the flu and COVID are very serious illnesses that can cause medical complications like pneumonia, sinusitis, cough, shortness of breath, dehydration, diarrhea, etc. Seasonal allergies rarely cause fevers, diarrhea, or health complications like other common upper respiratory infections. The only way to differentiate cold and allergy symptoms from COVID is to take a COVID test.

What Should I Do If I Think I Have a Cold or Seasonal Allergies?

Allergies are normally lifelong. Along with seeing an allergist/ENT for treatment, those with allergies often find it beneficial to make changes to their daily living to help lessen the frequency and severity of allergy attacks. Lifestyle modifications include improving indoor air quality, cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming more often, avoiding the outdoors during peak allergen times, and taking antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, prescription medications, and/or immunotherapy to make their symptoms more manageable.

It’s common practice for those experiencing cold or allergy symptoms to forgo medical treatment unless prolonged symptoms or complications arise. In the event of prolonged cold symptoms, medical care is necessary to determine if the infection has advanced and to rule out underlying conditions. Rest and hydration are two of the most effective tactics for alleviating most cold symptoms.

Could I Have a Sinus Infection?

You may have a sinus infection if you have a stuffy or runny nose or a sore throat that is accompanied by head or facial pain and symptoms last more than 5 days. Many people confuse their symptoms with colds and allergies. Sinus infections are very prevalent, although less than the common cold. However, sinus infections become acute or chronic without treatment and can lead to complications. If a cold or flu symptoms last more than 5 days, then it can be a sign of a sinus infection.

What Is a Sinus Infection?

cold or seasonal allergiesSinus infections develop when the sinus cavities and nasal airways become infected and blocked. This type of infection usually shows up after the cold or flu and can also be triggered by allergies and abnormal nasal anatomy. Sinus infections prevent mucus drainage, creating the perfect breeding ground for pathogens. The longer the infection is present, the more severe symptoms become.

Sinus infections are classified into two categories: acute and chronic. Acute sinus infections are common after exposure to a virus or bacteria. Acute sinus infection symptoms peak within several days after onset before going away with self-care. Acute infections caused by bacteria usually take longer to resolve and require medical attention for relief.

Chronic sinus infections or sinusitis occur far more frequently and last much longer. Sinusitis is often caused by bacteria or mildew and normally doesn’t respond to home remedies or over-the-counter meds. This type of sinus infection is more severe and requires medical treatment to alleviate symptoms.

Come to C/V ENT Surgical Group for Relief

If you are experiencing cold, allergy, sinus, or COVID-like symptoms and cannot get relief, contact C/V ENT Surgical Group to set up an appointment for a health evaluation. Our ENT specialists can help you determine the cause and provide treatment to make you feel better.