Morning Rounds: Cold versus allergy symptoms

NORFOLK, Va. – It’s cold and flu season, but a sore throat and runny nose may not always be the sign of a cold.

“The symptoms of a cold and allergies are very similar,” said News 3 medical expert Dr. Ryan Light.

“Allergies do not cause fever or body ache. Colds usually last between 7-14 days and are often accompanied by body aches and fever,” he explained. “Allergies typically continue through the entire seasonal exposure period.”

Dr. Light said some of the most common symptoms of seasonal allergies are a runny nose, sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, and nasal congestion. People may also experience lesser known symptoms such as postnasal drip, he said. Postnasal drip often leads to a sore throat, hoarseness, and cough.

“Inflammation of the sinus tissues due to allergens can also lead to sinus pressure that can mimic a sinus infection,” he said. “Seasonal allergies can decrease the sense of smell and increase snoring, leading to fatigue, tiredness, and lack of concentration.”

Dr. Light said the fall allergy season usually starts late in summer and extends until the first full frost. Common allergens of fall include weed pollens such as ragweed, goldenrod, grasses, and thistles.

He also said the treatment is different for colds versus allergies.

“Over the counter antihistamines treat allergies effectively,” he said. “These medications include Allegra, Claritin, Zyrtec, and Xyzal. “Nasal congestion and/ or sinus pressure can concurrently be treated with a nasal steroid. Nasal steroids have the benefit of not causing drowsiness because they work at the site of inflammation and not systemically. To help with sleep and your allergies you can also use Benadryl at night. Benadryl is the most potent antihistamine available over the counter.”

Dr. Light said there are ways to avoid medication.

“The best option is to avoid the allergen by keeping windows closed in the fall during high pollen counts. Wear a mask outdoors. Nasal lavage or nasal saline rinses also help with lowering allergy symptoms. Early research shows that probiotics may be helpful,” he added.

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