Tell the Difference Between Allergy, Cold, and Flu Symptoms
Edited by Sobi, Sean, MsBarbs, Grimm and 2 others
Viruses cause colds and influenza, more commonly known as the flu, while respiratory allergies are caused by allergens, which trigger a response in the immune system. The immune response causes inflammation throughout the upper and possibly lower respiratory systems. This respiratory inflammation can include the nose, eyes, ears, throat, lungs, and sinuses. Some common triggers are pollen, pet dander, pollution, and dust.
Because allergies are triggered by external irritants, while colds and the flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics are not effective in treating them. This means that antibiotics should only ever be prescribed when there is a secondary infection, such as sinus infection, bronchitis or pneumonia.
- 1 Symptoms of Allergies, Colds, and Flu
- 2 How to Minimize Allergies
- 3 How to Avoid Getting Colds and Flu
- 4 How to Wash Your Hands to Avoid Colds and the Flu
- 5 If You Have Cold Symptoms or the Flu
- 6 Additional Precautions, Tips, and Suggestions
- 7 Comments
Symptoms of Allergies, Colds, and Flu
Whether you have allergies, a cold or the raging flu, everyone experiences symptoms differently.
Colds, flu and allergies may all have similar symptoms and this can make it difficult to figure out which you have. You may have very few symptoms or you may have most of the symptoms, and be debilitated in bed, feeling totally miserable.
Usually, influenza symptoms come on very quickly and severely, whereas colds and allergies are more gradual and usually not nearly as debilitating. Flu and cold viruses are transmitted by droplets, which are spread when people talk, sneeze, cough, or touch objects with contaminated hands. If you are nearby, you may inhale some of these droplets or touch the contaminated object and then transfer the virus to yourself by touching your face. This is especially true of touching your eyes, such as rubbing them, or mucous membranes like the nose and mouth.
According to the CDC,  the flu virus can live on objects for 2 to 8 hours, some can even live up to 24 hours on objects. One of the  worst flu epidemics ever started was in Boston in 1918, and was the worst in recorded history.
- 1Allergies: Allergy symptoms last as long as the allergen is triggering the immune response, which can be months. Symptoms usually come on suddenly. Some common allergy symptoms are stuffy or runny nose, sore and/or scratchy throat (may be from post nasal drip), sneezing, headache (usually from sinus pressure), feeling tired, dry cough, watery or itchy eyes, and your ears may feel occluded or have popping sensations.Advertisement
- 2Colds: Symptoms may vary and can occur any time of the year. They usually come on gradually. Some of the most common symptoms are stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, headaches, body aches, chills, feeling tired and weak, coughing, watery eyes, and ear congestion. You may have a low-grade or mild fever with a cold, 100.4 degrees F (38C). The time frame for the common cold is about one week to ten days.Advertisement
- 3Influenza: Flu season can last from fall through the early spring, it peaks November through February. Symptoms usually come on suddenly and are much more severe than the common cold. Some of the most common flu symptoms are; a temperature of 101 degrees F. (38.8C) or higher, mild to severe body aches, fatigue, generalized weakness, shills, sore throat, headaches, coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, sneezing, watery eyes, nasal stuffiness, and ear pressure.
How to Minimize Allergies
The key to minimizing allergy symptoms is minimizing exposure, or removing the allergen.
- 7Talk to your healthcare provider about nasal saline flushes, and also discuss over the counter medicines to control symptoms. Older allergy medicines are not nearly as effective as their more modern counterparts. You should check to see if you can get something more effective, and try newer medications to help combat allergy symptoms.
How to Avoid Getting Colds and Flu
The single most important defense against a cold or flu is regular hand washing.
- 1The CDC recommends everyone get a flu shot every year. Some schools and districts require it for school age children and caregivers or teachers. While some disagree with state mandated flu shots, sometimes regulations will require it.
How to Wash Your Hands to Avoid Colds and the Flu
As we mentioned earlier, washing your hands is the most important thing you can do to prevent catching a cold or flu virus.
- 1First, get a paper towel before you wash your hands. Use the paper towel to get another clean paper towel for drying your hands. Use the first paper towel to turn the water on and off. This way you do not contaminate a clean paper towel.
- 2Always use soap and warm water to wash your hands. Do not use hot water as that can scald your skin, leaving tiny wounds for bacteria or viruses to enter.
- 3Be sure to wash your entire hands, including your palms, the back of your hands, between your fingers and your nails, and your wrists. Sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice while washing, which should take about 20 to 30 seconds.
- 4When you are done, make sure to thoroughly rinse and dry your hands. This will help make sure your hands are clean, dry, and free of any viruses.
If You Have Cold Symptoms or the Flu
Any time you are sick, you should stay home, as you will likely only make others sick too if you go out.
- Stay home, and get plenty of rest. Resting your body will help it fight the virus, and you will usually experience less severe symptoms.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Your body needs fluids to fight the virus, and with a runny nose, you will dehydrate much more quickly than normal.
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Drinking alcohol can make you feel worse, and also often has negative reactions with medicines, some of which can permanently damage your kidneys. Smoking will only irritate already sore throats and noses, and should be avoided.
- Eat nutritious foods. Healthy foods, like chicken soup, or clear broths will help hydrate your body, while also providing necessary nutrients. If you can't eat or drink for several days, it's important to immediately seek medical attention. Dehydration is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem.
- Monitor your temperature, and make sure it does not get too high. Also, be sure to stay home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, without having had to use any fever-reducing medications.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about over the counter medications to ease your symptoms. There are also a number of home remedies you can try, which may ease symptoms and make you feel better. Some people like to use a humidifier to keep the air in the home moist too, as it makes breathing easier.
- Remember that many over the counter cold and flu medications contain acetaminophen. Make sure you don't take separate acetaminophen tablets, as you can overdose on it.
Additional Precautions, Tips, and Suggestions
Call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:
- Significant severe worsening of your symptoms, such as a cough with shaking chills, and/or chest pains.
- Fever of 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) or higher that doesn't come down after taking analgesics, or any fever that lasts for more than 72 hours.
- Pain or tenderness over your sinuses and/or thick nasal discharge that becomes yellow, green or brown.
- Ear pain, equilibrium disturbances, or loss of balance.
- Increasing pain with headaches.
- Difficulty breathing with minimal exertion, or at rest, that is not associated with nasal congestion or shortness of breath.
Call 911 or go to the Emergency Room for Either of the Following:
- Any unusual bruising of any size on your skin. This can be a sign of meningococcal disease, which progresses rapidly, can be fatal, and requires immediate medical care.
- Severe difficulty breathing. This can be a sign of pneumonia, which can also be life-threatening, and requires immediate medical care and attention. Expect a chest X-Ray, with additional tests, and possible hospitalization if your symptoms are severe.