Is It a Cold or an Allergy?

Whenever they feel run down and get a runny nose and scratchy throat during the winter, many people assume they have a cold. But allergic rhinitis can cause similar symptoms. How do you know which one it is?

A runny or stuffy nose, frequent sneezing, red eyes, a scratchy or sore throat, difficulty breathing, and coughing can be caused by either respiratory tract infections or allergic rhinitis.

Some examples of common allergy triggers at this time of year are mites, pet hair and mould. Pollen from early flowering plants such as hazel or alder can trigger symptoms as early as end of January. So how can you tell whether you have an allergy or a cold? Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Fever

is a sign of infection and does not occur with allergic rhinitis.

  • Swollen lymph nodes

in the throat can sometimes occur with a respiratory tract infection, but rarely with allergic rhinitis.

  • Nasal secretion

sometimes contains pus during an infection, which gives it a yellowish/greenish colour. Allergic rhinitis causes a secretion that is clear and watery.

  • Itching

is a sign of an allergic reaction. Itching of the eyes or nose normally does not occur during a respiratory tract infection.

  • Throat Symptoms

caused by an allergy often include a burning or scratchy sensation, but not severe pain or difficulty swallowing.

While a simple cold usually goes away by itself, an allergy specialist should be consulted if allergic rhinitis is suspected. Skin, blood and, if necessary, provocation tests will help identify the cause and determine the correct course of treatment. If a pollen allergy is diagnosed, treatment with specific immunotherapy can reduce the risk of allergic rhinitis progressing to asthma.