Is Sneezing a Sign of a Cold or Allergies?

A runny or stuffy nose and non-stop sneezing can leave you feeling miserable, but is it a cold or are allergies taking a toll? Finding out whether your symptoms are caused by a cold or allergy is the first step to finding relief, according to allergist members of American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

Colds are contagious and are caused by one of more than 200 viruses. You can't catch allergies, which are triggered by allergens, prompting your immune system to overreact. There are many possible allergens, from pollen to pet dander. And while spring sneezing might be due to a cold, high levels of tree and grass pollens and mold spores cause misery at this time of year for the 60 million Americans who suffer from allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever.

So how can you tell whether it's a spring cold or spring allergies? Here are some general guidelines:

  • How does the suffering start?:
    Colds evolve, usually starting with a stuffy nose, throat irritation and low grade fever. Next comes the sneezing and a runny nose, with thickening mucus that often turns yellow or green. Common allergy symptoms include itchy eyes and nose, as well as sneezing, but the mucus is typically clear.
  • Can't shake your symptoms?:
    Colds usually run their course after a week or two. "Allergy symptoms, on the other hand, hang on or even increase as long as you are exposed to the allergen that is triggering your symptoms," said allergist Dr. Myron Zitt, past president of ACAAI. "For spring allergies that may mean six weeks or more."
  • Give me fever?:
    If you’re achy and feverish, you most likely have a cold.
  • Do your eyes have it?:
    Itchy eyes strongly suggest allergies, although eye discomfort can occur with a cold, too.
  • Say ahhh?:
    Although a sore throat and cough can occur with allergies, those symptoms more likely suggest you have a cold. Coughing, however, can be a sign of asthma, especially in children. A persistent cough should be evaluated by an allergist as other diseases can have this symptom, too.

Visit www.allergyandasthmarelief.org to take a relief self-test, find an allergist who can help you find out if you have allergies and develop a plan to stop your suffering.

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