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How to Identify Seasonal Allergies vs. Cold Symptoms

Spring can be a challenging time for anyone with seasonal allergies, making it difficult to enjoy the fresh air and warmer weather. Allergies are caused by your body’s immune response to something in the environment, like pollen or pet dander. A cold is an infection caused by a virus. When you wake up one morning with a stuffy nose and sneezing, how do you know if you have seasonal allergies or if you just came down with a cold or virus?

Listed below are several symptoms of both allergies and colds. Typically, the only symptoms that are never present with allergies are general aches and pains and a fever.

Signs you have allergies:

  • Clear or watery mucus that stays clear

  • Itchy or watery eyes

  • Symptoms stay the same day after day

  • Symptoms last more than a week

  • Symptoms only occur during certain seasons or situations

    • Every spring or fall

    • Anytime you are in a house with a cat or other pet

Signs you have a cold:

  • Cough

    • Coughs are unlikely to be caused by allergies unless due to post-nasal drip or asthma.

  • Low-grade fever

  • Headache

  • Mild body aches

  • Symptoms change every few days

    • For example, you might begin with a fever and runny nose, then have a sore throat the next day, and then a cough the next.

  • Your mucus becomes yellow, green, or thick

    • This is a sign your immune system is fighting a virus.

The treatment plans for allergies and colds are different. However, there are instances when a doctor needs to be called no matter the cause of the symptoms. Call your doctor if you:

  • Experience signs of a severe allergic reaction:

    • Difficulty breathing

    • Skin rash

    • Swelling in your mouth

    • Unable to swallow due to pain in your throat

  • Have a fever over 101 degrees F

  • Develop worse symptoms and they don’t clear up after 10 days

  • Have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms such as loss of taste and smell

Combat Seasonal Allergies through Medication

If you have allergies, treatments include over-the-counter and prescription:

  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines work by blocking the body’s release of histamines. Histamines are released by cells when foreign or enemy substances are detected within the body. Histamines cause blood vessels to expand and skin to swell with the purpose of protecting the body. Some people’s cells release histamine when they come in contact with pollen or other allergens. Antihistamines block the body’s reaction to allergens and prevent allergy symptoms.

  • Decongestants: Decongestants reduce the swelling of nasal passages bringing relief from nasal congestion. The antihistamines listed above are also decongestants. Nasal decongestants can only be used for three days. If used beyond three days, they will cause the congestion to worsen.

  • Nasal Steroid Sprays: Nasal corticosteroids decrease the inflammation in the nose reducing the chances of developing nasal congestion.

Other medications include eye drops to help with itchy, watery eyes and allergy shots. Allergy shots introduce small amounts of an allergen to the body slowly desensitizing the body to the allergen.

Combat Seasonal Allergies through Natural Remedies

Natural allergy remedies are not a replacement for allergy medications but may be used alongside medications. Natural remedies focus on avoiding allergens and alleviating the symptoms of allergies.

Avoiding Allergens

1. Allergy-proof your home. During the spring, if you have a pollen allergy, keep your windows shut. When you come inside, change out of your clothes and shoes and shower immediately to prevent carrying pollen into your home.

2. Keeping your home clean. HEPA filters can capture fine, pollen-sized particles and are the best air filters to remove allergens from your home. However, studies have shown that allergens often rest on rugs, furniture, and countertops. When vacuuming floors, it is a good idea to invest in a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Otherwise, vacuums just blow allergens back into the air.

3. Protect yourself. Pay attention to daily pollen counts and avoid outdoor activities when pollen counts are high. If you have to be outdoors or have to clean a dusty room, wear a dust mask and sunglasses to help keep allergens out of your mouth, nose, and eyes.

Alleviate Allergy Symptoms

  1. Use an over-the-counter saline spray to flush out your nasal passages to remove pollen and other allergens and decrease nasal allergy symptoms. You can also use nasal washes to clean out your sinuses. This requires a saline solution, a neti pot or a squeeze bottle and distilled or sterile water.

  2. Utilize complementary and alternative medicine when appropriate. Be sure to check with your doctor before you begin natural remedies, such as supplements and acupuncture.

    • One supplement that has been well-researched is a butterbur extract called Ze 339. This supplement works similar to some allergy medications.

    • Another supplement is fermented red ginseng which improves nasal congestion and decreases nasal inflammation.

    • An extract of Tinospora cordifolia has been found in studies to significantly decrease sneezing and nasal itching, discharge, and congestion resulting from allergies.

    • Some studies show acupuncture is helpful in alleviating allergy symptoms.

Having the right treatment plan to tackle seasonal allergies can help you enjoy those cool, colorful spring days with minimal discomfort.


Chicken soup is more than just a comfort food. It offers your body support when it needs it most, whether you have a cold or allergies. The warm broth helps to hydrate your body, while the vegetables provide you with essential vitamins and minerals. Adding ginger and garlic to your chicken soup can also provide anti-inflammatory benefits.


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