A Cold, or Seasonal Allergies?

Last Editorial Review: 10/31/2005

The leaves are gold, red and orange, the weather has turned cooler- and, as if on cue, your nose starts to run, your eyes are puffy and watery, and you suddenly sneeze several times a day. Is is a cold- or do you have a fall (or seasonal) allergy?

Check Your Symptoms
Symptoms of allergies and colds can be similar, but here's how to tell the difference:

Colds Allergies
Occurrence of symptoms: Symptoms often appear one at a time: first sneezing, then a runny nose, then congestion. Symptoms occur all at once.
Duration of symptoms: Generally last from seven to 10 days. Continue as long as a person is exposed to the allergy-causing agent (allergen).
Mucus: Often a yellowish nasal discharge, due to an infection. Generally a clear, thin, watery discharge.
Sneezing: Less common than with allergies. More common than with colds, especially when sneezing occurs two or three times in a row.
Time of year: More common during winter. More common in spring through fall, when plants are pollinating.
Fever: May be accompanied by a fever. Not usually associated with a fever.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Can a test tell me which plant (or mold) is causing my allergy?
  • Can my allergy be cured?
  • Are there medications I can take?
  • Are there lifestyle changes I can make to relieve my symptoms?

Did You Know?

  • Hay fever is another name for fall allergies.
  • Molds can also cause allergy symptoms when they release tiny reproductive cells, called spores.
  • Tree pollen allergies strike in late winter to early spring, grass allergies can strike from spring through summer, and ragweed (which causes "hay fever") typically strikes in the fall.
  • An allergen is a substance that your body perceives as dangerous, which causes an allergic reaction.
  • An antihistamine is a medication that prevents congestion, sneezing and itchy, runny nose by blocking histamine (a substance released by your body's immune system after being exposed to an allergen.
  • A decongestant is a medication that shrinks swollen nasal tissues to relieve symptoms of nasal swelling, congestion and mucus secretion.

Know Your Numbers

  • 35 million- that's the number of people with allergic rhinitis, another name for seasonal allergies, according to NIAID
  • Most people develop hay fever before age 30.

For more, please read the Common Cold and Allergies articles and visit the Cold and Flu Center.

WebMD the Magazine - September/October 2005


Allergies can best be described as: See Answer

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