Is It a Cold or an Allergy?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on April 16, 2018

How can you tell if you have a cold or an allergy?

The symptoms are often the same: sneezing, sore throat, coughing, chest congestion, sniffling or a runny nose. But colds are usually caused by a virus and last a week or so. Allergies have various triggers and can make you uncomfortable for much longer.

“With an allergy, your symptoms may also include eye itching and tearing,” said Aneysa Sane, M.D., of Carilion Clinic Allergy & Immunology in Daleville. “Your nose and throat may also itch. Depending on how long you’re exposed, your allergy symptoms could last a while."

Unfortunately, different pollens occur throughout most of the year. In the spring, budding flowers and trees can trigger allergies. In the summer, grass or weed pollens linger in the air, and in the fall, ragweed allergens last for about a month. Some people are also allergic to the mold released by decaying leaves and vegetation in the fall.

If an allergy is making your life miserable, what can you do? Allergy sufferers in Virginia now have more options than ever, according to Dr. Sane.

The standard treatment for allergies includes nasal steroid sprays (now over the counter) and antihistamines with allergy shots (immunotherapy) for more severe symptoms, but two new treatments are available for moderate to severe asthma.

The first involves injections of the drug Xolair, which work by blocking the antibodies causing the allergic reaction.

“These injections are safer than the traditional allergy shot and don’t require that you identify the specific allergen causing the problem,” said Dr. Sane. “Xolair is indicated for age 6 and up for asthma and hives.”

Xolair injections also offer faster relief, often after only three injections, she said.

The other new treatment is desensitization therapy. Patients are treated with incremental dosages of an allergen in order to develop a tolerance.

“Desensitization therapy is very effective in treating allergic rhinitis conjunctivitis and mild asthma,” said Dr. Sane.

If it’s any consolation, a recent study covered by The New York Times found that no matter where you live in the United States, allergens are present, and almost half of those tested in the study were allergic to at least one.