Is It a Common Cold or Allergies?
Prevention and Treatment of Colds and Allergies
Because the causes of cold and allergy symptoms are quite different, preventing them requires different strategies.
To prevent allergy symptoms, avoid substances you're allergic to, called allergens. So if you're allergic to pollen, for instance, avoid going outside on days when the pollen count is high. Here are some common allergens:
To prevent cold symptoms, prevent the cold-causing virus from getting into your system. Keep your distance from people who have colds. Wash your hands often. To protect others, always cover your mouth and nose (with a tissue or your sleeve, rather than your hands) when sneezing or coughing.
There is no cure for either the common cold or allergies. But there are ways to ease the cold and allergy symptoms.
To treat either cold or allergy symptoms, you can try:
- Antihistamines, which block the effects of histamine, a natural substance that causes symptoms such as congestion and a runny nose
- Decongestants, which reduce swelling in the mucus membranes of the nasal passages, making you feel less stuffy
If you have any medical problems, or take other medicines, talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medicines.
To treat allergy symptoms, your doctor may prescribe:
- Nasal steroids, which reduce swelling in the nasal passages, relieving congestion and other symptoms. Two nasal steroid sprays, Nasacort and Flonase, are available over the counter.
- Allergy shots, called immunotherapy, which involves being injected with a small amount of the substance to which you are allergic. Over time, the dose is increased. By exposing you to greater and greater amounts of the allergen, your body may develop a tolerance to it so that it no longer causes symptoms.
To treat cold symptoms, you may also try:
- Taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, such as Advil or Aleve, or Tylenol, to treat fever, aches and pains
- Getting extra rest
- Drinking plenty of fluids
Although cold and nasal allergy symptoms are rarely serious, they can sometimes lead to other problems. For instance, both colds and allergies can lead to sinus infections and a middle ear infection. If you think you might have allergies -- or your cold symptoms seem severe or are not getting better -- see your doctor.