Q. Now that spring is here, I have a hard time distinguishing between cold symptoms and allergies. Is there any easy way to discern between the two? I don’t want to give my child allergy medication for a simple cold.
Trying to distinguish between a cold and allergies is often difficult because many of the symptoms overlap. However, there are subtle differences that can help you sort this out.
Runny nose: Colds will typically begin with a clear runny nose in the first one to two days but then progress to more yellow, milky or green mucous. Runny noses with allergies are more clear and watery.
Cough: Allergies and colds can cause a cough that gets worse at night. Coughs associated with allergies tend to be dry, whereas colds create more of a wet cough.
Sneezing: Sneezing happens with both, but sneezing tends to be more productive with colds.
Red eyes: Red, irritated, itchy eyes are common with allergies. This can be confused with viral conjunctivitis, or “pink-eye,” which is often associated with viral infections or colds. Allergies cause both eyes to be symmetrically red, while viral infections usually start in one eye.
If the runny nose is associated with fever, body aches or sore throat, then it is most likely a viral cold.
Allergies often have a strong component of itching – itchy nose, itchy watery eyes, dry itchy skin. A strong family history of allergies also makes allergies more likely.