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Determining the difference between allergies and colds

(ARA) -- A visit with your doctor is the best way to determine whether you have a cold or an allergy. While allergy symptoms and cold symptoms are very similar, there are some signs to look for if you want to know the difference.
1. Take a look at the color of your nasal discharge, mucous or saliva. Both allergies and colds cause a runny nose, but for cold sufferers, the discharge is usually green or brown which is a sign of an infection. "If the mucous is clear - it is probably an allergy," Dr. Carl Wurster, chair, Allied Health Department, at Brown Mackie College - Boise, said. The allergy comes from an allergen, while the cold indicates exposure to a virus.
2. Allergy sufferers do not generally have to deal with body pain, but if you have a headache and feel lots of aches and pains, it's probably a cold. If you have a viral cold, you'll also experience fatigue and a severe sore throat. "A mild sore throat may accompany an allergy, but with a cold you could lose your voice and have hoarse-ness. It is rare to be hoarse with allergies and lose your voice," Wurster added.
3. Check your calendar and keep track of how long you've been sneezing or feeling sick. A cold can last up to two weeks. Allergies are often seasonal, especially if the trigger comes from grass or tree pollen. "If your allergy comes from something inside your house like, mold, or dust the symptoms can be constant or come and go depending on the exposure level to the indoor allergy source," Wurster said.
"Allergy sufferers may also have nosebleeds because pollen gets deposited inside the front of the nose which triggers the sneeze reflex. Sometimes allergy sufferers have a line across the tip Of their nose and puffiness under their lower eyelids because of heparin a substance naturally generated from the white cells of the body," he said.
4. If your eyes, nose, throat or mouth itch, it's a sure bet that you are reacting to some kind of allergen, which can come from pollen or even an allergen in the workplace or on a college campus. If your allergy stems from something in your workplace, some industries have set up "clean rooms," where employees wear "clean suits" in highly-sterile rooms. Some employees feel claustrophobic in clean rooms, but people with allergies tend to like it.
"With allergies, you will run a low-grade fever of 100.1 or 100.2 [degrees]Farenheit . With the viral or bacterial cold your temperature will be a degree higher 103 or 104 Farenheit," Wurster said. Hay fever is the old term for allergies "because you get symptoms of a cold with a low grade fever," Wurster added. The average person does not know whether their sickness is viral, bacterial or the result of an allergen.
"The peak incidence of allergies can be absent from the onset of puberty to the mid-20s, but can show up when the patient is in their 30s and late 40s."
- Dr. Carl Wurster

"Allergy sufferers should consider using antihistamines at night (Benadryl)," Wurster said. "A cold will not respond to an antihistamine. Claritin and Afrin would be effective during the day because they don't cause drowsiness. Take a decongestant to prevent mucus from building up in your sinuses."
Not being able to sleep at night is another sign of an allergy. "You should elevate yourself on a bunch of pillows to get the drainage of fluid out of your head to help you fall asleep," Wurster said.
Wurster said there is one good thing about having allergies. "Allergy sufferers are genetically-coordinated with high intelligence." He added that "the peak incidence of allergies can be absent from the onset of puberty to the mid-20s, but can show up when the patient is in their 30s and late 40s."
For cold sufferers, the key is to visit your physician because you may need antibiotics. Try to avert getting a cold. "When it first starts, rinse your nose out with salt water four to five times a day. It can prevent a bacterial cold and treat sinus infections," he said. "For some people with allergies, mucous gets backed up in their sinuses which serves as fertile ground for bacterial culture. What could have been a two-to three-day allergy can turn into sinusitis, bronchitis or a cold, which includes congestion and the risk of an upper respiratory virus infection."