Contributed by- Dr. Dhrity Vats
The weather changes and as if on cue, your nose starts to run, your eyes are puffy and watery and you suddenly sneeze several times a day. Looks like a cold, but it can be an allergy too!
The most common illness from which no one is spared, is cold. This is the reason it is popularly called “Common Cold”. Generally, people confuse between cold and an allergy as the symptoms are often similar. Both are way different from each other and proper treatment can be ensured only when this difference is identified.
For example, in a year, you may suffer from 2-3 episodes of cold. Children are more likely to experience more episodes. On the other hand, an allergy is a triggered symptom which may or may not occur if the irritant isn’t close to you. Still confused?
To make this differentiation between a cold and an allergy easy, here is the required checklist.
What is a Cold?
A common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat mainly signified by runny nose, sneezing and congestion. It is due to microscopic organism known as viruses. It occurs very commonly in individuals; children being at a higher risk.
What is an Allergy?
Allergy is a body’s immune response to an irritant, allergen or substance which shows different symptoms like runny and itchy nose or any abnormal physical appearance of the body.
Causes of colds and allergies
A major difference between a cold and allergy is its cause. Though the symptoms are similar, the causes are way different.
Cold is caused by a virus. Viruses can be of almost 200 types, in which rhinovirus being the commonest causing symptoms like those in common cold. The transmission of cold like infection is through droplets in the air while sneezing and coughing. It is highly contagious. This is mostly seen in the winter season, but can occur anytime of the year.
Allergy is primarily not contagious and is not due to any infection caused by a virus. Allergy is caused due to the presence of any irritant or stimulant also known as allergens which makes the body’s immune system show these symptoms to combat the allergen. The immune system releases histamines which makes the body show symptoms like cold.
When talking about allergy vs cold, we would elaborate on symptoms which involve the upper respiratory tract.
Symptoms that are alike
Both cold and allergy might have similar symptoms as both attack the upper respiratory tract which confuses the treatment line too. Some symptoms which are common in both the illnesses are:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Nasal drip
- Conjunctivitis like symptoms
Symptoms that differentiate cold and allergy
Very few symptoms are different, but knowing them will help you heal faster.
The Duration of the Symptoms: If the symptoms last from 7 to 10 days, and reduce or taper after a week, then it might be a cold, whereas in an allergy the symptoms surface suddenly and stay until the allergen or irritant is around.
Occurrence of symptoms: If the symptoms came in gradually like first coughing, sneezing, followed by sore throat and then congestion,then you are suffering from cold, whereas in an allergy the symptoms appear suddenly without any prelude to the signs and as soon as the body comes in contact with the irritant.
Pains and aches: Generally in cold, the body shows lethargy and pains specially, the smaller joints, whereas an allergy is never associated with any body pain.
Does the symptom surface in predictable times of year: Cold is common during winters but can happen any time of the year. Allergies are generally seasonal or happen at a specific time of every year, like when pollens fall or when wheat grows.
Itchy eyes: Watery or itchy eyes are not seen commonly in colds but is a very common symptom in allergies.
Colour of secretions: If the colour of mucus is yellowish or greenish it confirms any infection which is associated with colds, but in allergy the nasal secretions are more watery and clear.
Tests to confirm
Blood tests are available with specialized laboratories like ours. At Healthians, we can test you for Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) which generally increases if there is an infection in the body confirming a cold due to virus. IgE that is the immunoglobulin tests confirms the presence of an antibody released in the body if there is an allergy.
Treatment: Allopathy and home remedies
Common cold treatment should have two aims, i.e. adequate rest and helping you get off the virus. A cold virus when attacks the body takes almost 2-3 days to leave the body. If the symptoms are accompanied by body pain and fever above 100 degrees, then OTC drugs can be administered. But medications are sometimes useless in such cases. The best remedy is to take adequate water and follow some natural tips like using eucalyptus oil, or steam inhalation with camphor. Eat a balanced diet rich with all the essential nutrients. Adding lavender, cedar, or lemon to steam may also soothe nasal passages. Inhaling menthol not only provides relief from nasal congestion, but might help inhibit infection as well.
Allergies have no specific treatment until the allergen is known. To reduce the symptoms of allergy medicines like antihistamines is prescribed which suppress the histamines released by the body during any allergy. Other treatments include natural therapy like having a nettle leaf tincture. Nettle leaf is commonly seen in the wilds of the lawn also known as ‘Bichhua Patta’. This is very helpful is suppressing the histamines as it is a natural antihistamine. Walnuts help your body fight the allergies, so should be included in your daily diet if you have a history of allergy in the family.
Do not get confused with the symptoms of both. Identify them to treat yourself correctly.
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