My house is a house full of people with debilitating seasonal allergies. Between my kids and I, we keep the makers of Zyrtec and Flonase in business between the months of March and August. Just today, both of my kids woke up with scratching throats and a bit of a cough. While this is pretty common during allergy season thanks to post-nasal drip, I thought it might also be a cold, given how fast the symptoms manifested. But what's the difference between seasonal allergies and a cold?
The symptoms are infuriatingly similar. For me, I get a runny nose, watery eyes, scratchy throat, and I cough like the dickens as soon as I wake up. As the allergies progress, the sneezing starts and doesn't abate until I'm heavily medicated or it snows. However, according to the Akron Children's Hospital, the speed at which the symptoms present themselves provide the biggest clue as to whether you're dealing with the common cold or seasonal allergies. The symptoms of a cold come on like a hurricane, and often include aches, fatigue, and possibly even a fever, which aren't usually present in cases of seasonal allergy flare-ups. Also, the duration of a cold is finite, whereas seasonal allergies can go on for months.
As per Kaiser Permanente's website, "Cold and allergy symptoms often overlap, so it’s easy to mistake summer cold symptoms for allergies, and vice versa." Isn't that the absolute truth? If allergy season fluctuates in any direction, I get terribly confused. Thanks to climate change, this means I get really paranoid every year. Is it a cold? Is it allergies? Is it the work of black magic? Who knows? My allergist suggested that I do what seems mostly rational and based in common sense, but lacks a certain edge for my hypochondria — check the pollen and mold counts for my area. Because most seasonal allergies are caused by pollen and mold, if there's none present, it's likely a cold.
As the Kaiser Permanente website noted, "Understanding the cause of your symptoms helps you choose the right treatment." If it's allergies, you likely know the drill. It involves finding the perfect combination of allergy meds, neti pot usage, and just the right Hogwarts spell to ward off that evil. Colds? Get yourself some Tylenol, chicken soup, and pass the tissues. If you're dealing with little ones, your provider will likely have strong opinions on cold relief, but I think chicken soup is universal.
As for children with allergies, I will tell you that as a mom of two kids with nasty, severe seasonal allergies, the trip to the allergist is worth its weight in gold. They can really help identify the triggers that are causing your little one's discomfort. However, if you go through the season believing it's a cold, you're likely not going to visit an allergist, especially if you and your partner have no history of allergies yourself.
When you examine the differences between seasonal allergies versus a cold, you'll notice a few things, according to the Mayo Clinic. First, colds can knock you off your feet and do it quickly. Seasonal allergies tend to creep in, building as the season intensifies. Also, they're not normally accompanied by the lethargy and malaise that afflicts cold sufferers. On the reverse side, if you think it's allergies and take your typical allergy meds, you will likely experience little or no relief from your symptoms if it's actually a cold.
If you find yourself at odds, unable to determine just what is affecting you or your child at the moment, call your provider. They'll be able to sort through the minutiae of your symptoms and help you determine what's up. Also, if there's a cold going around your area — they'll know it.
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