People have been mixing up the common cold and allergic rhinitis (hay fever or “allergies”) for years. The symptoms are similar for both, but the causes couldn’t be more different.
What is the common cold?
The common cold is caused by a virus. There’s not a cold virus per se, but instead a collection of over 200 viruses that cause cold symptoms. Some of the most common cold-causing viruses include:
- Parainfluenza virus
Now, you’re probably saying, “whoa! Does that say coronavirus?” Yes, the common cold can be caused by being infected with one of many coronavirus strains. A different strain causes COVID-19, but many other coronavirus strains have been around for numerous years before the pandemic.
Another interesting fact about the viruses that cause the common cold is that in about 20-30% of cases in adults, the exact virus causing the symptoms is unknown.
How do you get the common cold?
Cold viruses are extremely contagious. Most exposure to cold viruses occurs by shaking hands or being around someone who is sneezing or coughing. That’s why washing your hands and covering your sneeze/cough is so important, not just for you, but for others.
Colds are also more common in the cooler months of the year because that’s when the viruses that cause them are most active. People are also inside and closer together during these months, allowing for an easier spread of cold viruses. However, colds can happen at any time of year.
What are the symptoms of the common cold?
Symptoms do not begin as soon as you’re exposed to a cold-causing virus. Instead, you probably won’t notice anything amiss until at least 2-3 days after exposure. Symptoms of the common cold can vary since so many different viruses might be the cause, but most cold sufferers experience:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Body aches
How long does the common cold last?
Most people who are infected with a common cold virus will feel better within 3 to 14 days. If your symptoms last longer than 14 days and are not improving, talk to your doctor.
Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever or Allergies)
What is allergic rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever or “allergies,” is not caused by a virus, but is instead an immune response to a trigger. There are countless allergic triggers. The most common allergic triggers for nasal symptoms include:
- Animal dander
- Dust mites
When you first come into contact with your allergic trigger, your immune system identifies it as harmful and begins to build antibodies. The next time you are exposed to the trigger, the antibodies deploy, chemicals such as histamines are released, and a full-blown allergic response is underway.
How do you get allergies?
The exact reasons why some people have allergic triggers and others are still largely unknown. Many people develop new allergic triggers as they age or even lose allergic triggers. Children, people with asthma, and individuals with a family history of allergic rhinitis are more likely to have the condition, but anyone can have allergic rhinitis. So, just because you’re allergic to something as a child doesn’t necessarily mean you always will be and vice versa.
What are the symptoms of allergic rhinitis?
Allergy symptoms can vary from person to person and trigger to trigger, but the most common symptoms include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy nose
- Post nasal drip
How long do allergies last?
Nasal symptoms due to an allergic trigger will continue until the exposure is stopped and symptoms are treated. Left untreated, symptoms can persist for days or even months!
The main differences to note between the common cold and allergic rhinitis are:
- Common cold is caused by a virus infection, while allergic rhinitis is a specific immune system response to an allergic trigger.
- Allergic rhinitis symptoms begin immediately upon exposure to a trigger, while common cold symptoms do not start until 2-3 days after virus exposure.
- Common cold symptoms will typically resolve on their own after 3-14 days, while allergic rhinitis symptoms will continue indefinitely if exposure to the allergen is not limited.
- Body aches are prevalent with the common cold, but not allergic rhinitis. Itchy, watery eyes are common with allergic rhinitis, but very rare with the common cold.
Allergic rhinitis treatment in Tampa Bay
If you’re suffering with allergic rhinitis symptoms, the experts at Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Associates of Tampa Bay can help you find relief. Our ace team of medical professionals has the experience, resources, and network to resolve even the most complex allergy issues. Call us at (813) 971-9743 or contact us online to schedule your appointment today.