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Separating the Common
Cold From an Allergy

You're sneezing, your nose is running and your eyes are itchy. You know you feel lousy, but do you know why?

It can be mighty hard to distinguish between a cold and allergies, but there are subtle differences.

Colds are usually accompanied by a low-grade fever, says Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, medical director of infection control and hospital epidemiology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans. Upper respiratory tract allergies can cause runny eyes as well as an itchy, runny or stuffy nose, but generally not a fever.

"The difference is a cold will put people to bed because they're running a fever, and they feel crummy all over. Allergies cause a kind of chronic uncomfortableness," Kemmerly says.

A cold will also get better and go away, sometimes in as little as three to five days, while allergies linger until the person is no longer exposed to the allergen, be it mold, mildew or plants.

A whole host of over-the-counter medications purport to take care of the range of allergy and cold symptoms, but be careful which ones you choose, Kemmerly warns. Steer clear of combination medications unless you know what all the ingredients are and why you're taking them.

In particular, people with hypertension should not take decongestants, while people with prostate problems or glaucoma should avoid antihistamines unless they've gotten an all-clear from their physician.

There also have been several cases of people overdosing on the acetaminophen in combination remedies.

Single-compound products are a much safer bet and they're cheaper, Kemmerly says.

"It can be very confusing," she says. "You want to stick to single compounds or know what you're taking and why you're taking them. Read the labels."

More information

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has fact sheets on both the common cold and allergies.

Reference Source 101


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