It's cold outside, so is this a cold or an allergy?

Dr. Paula J. Busse Health Pro
  • Hi, I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday.


    As it is the cold and flu season, I am frequently asked how you can tell the difference between having a cold and having allergies. Colds and allergies often have many of the same symptoms, such as a runny nose and a cough. However, there are several differences between them, which can help you figure out which you have.


    Common Cold

    Symptoms develop over days


    Body aches

    Symptoms last 7 to 10 days



    Symptoms come immediately after exposure to allergen

    No fever

    No body aches

    Symptoms can last for weeks depending on the allergen

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    For example, if you are allergic to trees, your symptoms usually last from about March to May or June. Allergy symptoms may be short if you are allergic to something that can be avoided (potentially) in your environment such as pets, dust mites or molds.


    What about this cough?

    Sometimes patients will have a cough after having a cold that lasts several weeks. This is due to the extra inflammation that your body generated to fight off the cold. This cough will eventually disappear. For some of my patients who have a cough after having a cold, I give them the same medication that I would use for patients with asthma, but just treat for a few weeks or so and then stop the medication.


    Will allergy medicine work for colds?

    No. Medications used to treat allergies, such as Benadryl or Clartin, which you can buy over the counter, will not help treat your cold or make it go away faster. These medications are geared towards blocking histamine which is a protein released after an allergic reaction, not during a cold.

    That also goes for antibiotics. Colds are caused by a virus and, therefore, antibiotics won't help.


    Unfortunately, the best medication for colds is time, some Tylenol and perhaps some nasal decongestant. If you have any questions, please feel free to write and as always contact your doctor with questions as well.



Published On: January 11, 2008