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How to Know if You Have Allergies or a Cold


A Tricky Situation

When you’re sneezing and wheezing, it can be hard to tell the root cause of your ailment. Are you suffering from influenza, a common cold, or some adverse allergic reaction? Complicating the issue is this reality: allergies can sometimes develop seemingly from nowhere. It turns out the state of your immune system and your age may have an impact on whether or not you develop an allergy. Allergies can also come and go, though many do tend to sink their “teeth” in and hold on for a while.

Understanding this requires understanding what allergies are, and what causes them. To make it simple, an allergy is basically an “overzealous”, you might say, immune system reaction. The body becomes hypersensitive to certain things and when it contacts them basically throws all its defenses against them. In extreme cases this can cause choking, suffocation, and even death. In not-so-extreme cases, it can make your eyes itchy, or your nose run–you might even puff up a little, or get hives.


Sometimes an allergy may feel just like a cold, but it will last for a few months. It may come in with a change in seasons, and leave with it. This is the case with ragweed allergy, or what’s commonly known as hay fever. Basically, when ragweed starts to pollinate, nigh-invisible spores are sent out, and these can get on your skin, in nasal passageways, in your mouth, or in your eyes. Those with hay fever then develop a sneezing sickness with watery eyes that become quickly raw if you rub them. In a strange way, the mouth can be felt to dry up, and as though the gums were receding from the teeth.

Avoiding contact with areas rife with ragweed spores will help diminish symptoms. Regular hygiene including thorough showers and nasal evacuation can also help one recover. Allergy medicines are definitely helpful.

One “folksy” remedy to seasonal allergies involves eating a spoonful of local honey every day for a year or so, if you can manage it. There is some basis in reality with this remedy: honey is pollinated by bees in the area, and trace amounts of allergens will make their way into the honey; but in quantities your body can deal with.

Common Colds

By contrast, a cold may include any or all of the previously described symptoms, but have nothing to do with allergens. You can usually tell a cold by how weak you feel. If you’ve caught a cold, you might feel a “weakness” or “coldness” in your bones. It’s not necessarily a headache, and it’s not necessarily pain–it’s somewhere in between the two, and you will have a distinct disinclination to move.

The severity of this “under the weather” feeling will depend on the individual, and their immune system; as well as the strength of whatever virus has infected their body. Usually colds just make someone feel a little foggy for a few days to a week, and stuff them up. Influenza, by contrast, can knock a person out of the rat race so hard they catch pneumonia and die.

The Bottom Line

If your symptoms last longer than a week or two, but you’re not adversely affected in terms of weakness or clarity of mind, you may be suffering from a common allergy like hay fever. Eating local honey can help offset it, and avoiding situations where pollination is rampant also makes sense.

If your symptoms only last for a few days, don’t seem related to any allergens, and leave you feeling slightly more out-of-sorts, you’re likely dealing with a cold.


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