By Cyndirae Braun
Family Nurse Practitioner
Is it seasonal allergies or a cold virus?
The differences are subtle and sometimes difficult to establish. In the United States, seasonal allergies cause 2 million annual absences from school and 6 million lost work days. Cold viruses are responsible for 26 million lost school days and 23 million lost work days, respectively. Billions of dollars are spent annually on medical costs between the two.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, nasal itching, postnasal drip, cough, irritability and fatigue. Inner ear itching, tearing eyes, and mouth itching are also common. Typically, these symptoms will be recurrent at predictable times of the year, such as spring and fall. Patients who complain of bi-annual illness at the same time every year are generally suffering with uncontrolled seasonal allergies.
Common cold symptoms may present similarly, with runny nose and congestion being the most common initial symptoms. Other frequently reported symptoms include sneezing, cough, fatigue and sore throat. Sore throat is one of the symptoms that can help differentiate a virus from allergies. Fever, if present, tends to be 101 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The average adult can expect to have two to three colds per year, and school-age children contract an average of five to seven colds per year. Colds can occur throughout the year, including summer.
Typically, both of these conditions are self-limited and will run their course without the aid of antibiotics. Patients often think they have developed an infection because of green or yellow nasal discharge or sputum and believe they require antibiotics. The provider guidelines recommend waiting to consider initiation of antimicrobial therapy until after 10-14 days of symptoms without improvement.
There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, and an equal or higher number of environmental allergens that cause seasonal allergies. If over-the-counter remedies don’t help to ease the symptoms, seeing your healthcare provider is a good idea. Just keep in mind that antibiotics may not be appropriate at the time of your visit.