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Allergies vs. Colds

8/10/2012


A good guideline for distinguishing between a cold and an allergy is time. Colds get better over time, generally in 7 to 10 days, while allergic reactions can last for months.

This time of year often brings with it sniffles, sneezes and coughing. How your physician treats the ailment depends on the source of the symptoms.

In the case of a cold, infection or flu, the foreign bodies are harmful bacteria or viruses. The immune system strikes at these invaders, which have the potential to harm the body.
 
With allergies, the body mistakes a harmless material, such as pollen or dust, for a dangerous intruder. It then launches an attack that results in symptoms associated with allergies.

While colds are usually just inconvenient, allergies can be serious and sometimes lead to chronic respiratory diseases, like asthma. Patient education and adequate management of the allergy, through consultation with an ear, nose and throat or allergy physician, may control allergic diseases. The physician may be able to diagnose the trigger of the allergy and provide information or medication to prevent a reaction. An allergy is a lifelong condition that your allergist can control but very rarely cure. Your physician can educate you on the best way to decrease the symptoms of this chronic disease.

What are some common differences between a cold and an allergy?

Allergies:

  • No Fever
  • No General Aches or Pains
  • Sore Throat Sometimes
  • Sometimes Cough
  • Chest Discomfort Rare
  • Longstanding Symptoms

Colds:
  • Rare Fever
  • Slight Aches and Pains
  • Sore Throat Common
  • Cough Common, Hacking
  • Chest Discomfort Mild to Moderate
  • Last Days to Weeks

Although there is no cure for allergies, there are many treatment options. Once the source of the allergy is identified, a physician can determine the most appropriate treatment.

Treatment may involve avoiding the allergen that causes the reaction and also may include medication that:
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Opens breathing passages and reduces mucus in lungs
  • Reverses life-threatening symptoms
  • Prevents the onset of allergy symptoms
  • Decreases the symptoms and prevents infections, like sinusitis.

Allergy shots or allergy drops (placed underneath the tongue) reduce symptoms or the frequency of reactions and are another potential treatment.

For colds, a nutritious diet and time are often the best treatments. Medications that may be used to treat cold-like symptoms include:
  • Expectorants
  • Cough suppressants
  • Ibuprofen, acetaminophen and other pain relievers
  • Antibiotics (if bacterial infection suspected).

Medications that may be used to treat both allergies and colds include:
  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants
  • Nasal sprays
  • Eye drops
  • Allergy shots or drops.

Once your allergy or cold triggers are identified, prevention measures should also focus on reducing exposure, when possible, to the allergens, viruses or bacteria that cause your symptoms.

In order to accurately diagnose your condition and plan for appropriate treatment, it is important for you to consult with your health care provider. North Oaks ENT Physician Jacques Peltier, MD, also is available to treat patients of all ages with allergies and ear, nose and throat conditions, including those that may require surgical intervention.

Appointments with Dr. Peltier are available at two convenient North Oaks Clinic locations:
  • North Oaks ENT & Allergy Clinic  |  (985) 230-2630
    15770 Paul Vega, MD, Dr., Suite 100, Located in North Oaks Office Plaza in Hammond
  • North Oaks Multispecialty Clinic  |  (225) 686-4960
    17199 Spring Ranch Rd. in Livingston. Located in the North Oaks-Livingston Parish Medical Complex

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