Cold or seasonal allergy... How can you tell them apart?

Do you have an itchy, runny nose and itchy watery eyes these days? Do you have a tendency to sneeze? Is it a cold or a seasonal allergy?

The common cold: a common viral infection

Who can say they've never had a cold in their life? Whether you're young or old, there's no escaping this widespread and usually harmless health issue. A cold is caused by a virus that is easily transmitted, which is why it is so common. It's nothing to worry about, but it can temporarily compromise your well-being and functioning, at least for a few days. 

Typical symptoms of a cold include:

  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • cough (dry or wet)
  • sore throat
  • transient fever (less common)

When you have a cold, you have to be patient. Since it's a viral infection, you have to wait for your immune system to fight it off. This can usually take 7 to 10 days. If you have a bacterial infection, you can take an antibiotic to treat it. There is no treatment for a cold, but there are over-the-counter medications that can be used to ease symptoms, such as:

  • decongestant
  • antihistimine
  • saline solution
  • cough supressant
  • analgesic
  • lozenges
  • etc.


Seasonal allergies: similar symptoms, different causes

An allergy is a reaction of the body to the presence of an external agent to which it is particularly sensitive (allergen). To defend itself against this "threat", the body triggers a series of reactions, including the release of a substance called histamine. It is this substance that is responsible for the signs and symptoms of allergy. In the case of a seasonal allergy, it is tree, shrub, plant or grass pollens that are involved.

For several years now, there has been a gradual increase in cases of seasonal allergies. This is partly due to the impact of climate change on vegetation. It is estimated that more than 18% of the population aged 15 years and older suffer from pollen allergy symptoms at some time during the year. Women are more affected than men, and younger people are more affected than older people.

When we speak of seasonal allergies, we sometimes use the term "allergic rhinitis". The term rhinitis refers to an inflammation of the nasal passages. Indeed, when you are allergic to a substance, it is often the nose that suffers the consequences. It is bothered by congestion, an often abundant discharge, sneezing and itching. These typical allergy symptoms are therefore common to those of a cold and this is one of the reasons why they are easily confused.

In addition to these classic symptoms, seasonal allergies can be recognized by the following manifestations:

  • watery eyes
  • red eyes or swollen eyelids
  • itchy eyes, palate, throat or ears
  • etc.


Good questions to ask yourself

To determine if you have a cold or a seasonal allergy, ask yourself the following questions.

What is the current season?

The common cold is most frequent in the fall or winter, while seasonal allergies are most common from the time spring arrives until the first frost in the fall. Of course, you can get a cold at any time of year, but it's probably less common in the summer.

Has anyone I know had the same symptoms as me?

Colds are contagious, but seasonal allergies are not. If someone you know has the same symptoms as you at the same time, then you may have caught a cold.

How did my symptoms start and how are they changing?

Cold symptoms often begin more gradually and vary in nature and intensity over the course of a day. Seasonal allergy symptoms usually come on more suddenly and last with less variation.

What exactly are my symptoms?

If, in addition to your nasal symptoms, you have a fever, sore throat, sore muscles, headache or a severe cough, then it's probably a cold or another infection.

If you have thick, sticky or coloured secretions, this also suggests a cold. Allergies are more often associated with a clear, thicker, liquid mucus discharge.

How long have my symptoms been going on?

If they have been going on for more than 7-10 days, then it is more likely to be an allergy. Allergy symptoms can last for several weeks, and in some cases, months.

Could my symptoms be caused by something else?

Yes, the symptoms mentioned above can be caused by several conditions. Additionally, allergic rhinitis can be caused by exposure to allergens other than pollen, such as:

  • animal hair
  • dust mites
  • mould
  • chemicals
  • etc.

Whether you have a cold or allergies, your pharmacist can help you by referring you to a doctor if they deem it appropriate or by suggesting measures and treatments to relieve you. In some cases, they may even prescribe medication that is suited to you. Don't hesitate to consult them!


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Cold or seasonal allergy... How can you tell them apart?

Do you have an itchy, runny nose and itchy watery eyes these days? Do you have a tendency to sneeze? Is it a cold or a seasonal allergy?
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