Allergy season in full bloom

How do you know if you have a cold or allergies?
April 26, 2016
a woman sneezing
Photo: Getty Images.

Sneeze! Sniff. Cough.

Yes, they’re baaaaaack. Those miserable seasonal allergies.  Or is it just a cold?

It can be hard to tell at first, says Dr. Melissa A. Voutsalath, D.O., a UCHealth primary care physician who practices at the Monument clinic.

The family medicine-trained physician sees plenty of complaints this time of year.

Melissa Voutsalath

“We are having people with allergy symptoms early,” she said. ”When we have those warmer days then allergies can kick up. The thing about living in Colorado is you can get those warm days even early in the winter.”

Of course, everyone’s allergies crop up at different times.

“It depends on what you’re allergic to,” she said. Maybe it’s pollen and weeds, but “some people have them indoors, too, if they’re allergic to things like mold and dust.”
Dr. Melissa Voutsalath, who practices at UCHealth Primary Care in Monument, treats many patients for allergies this time of year. Pollen and weeds, as well as mold and dust, can trigger allergies.
So how do you know when it’s allergies and when it’s a cold?

“It’s not easy to tell, sometimes,” she said. “The symptoms often overlap. They have different causes, but many of the symptoms can be the same – like a runny nose or coughing— but with allergies, you also may have itchy eyes and sneezing. A fever would be more common with a cold than allergies. And sometimes you can have both allergies and a cold.”

If you do have symptoms and are not sure whether it’s a cold or allergies, “try treating for allergies first. And if it’s not getting better, it could be a viral illness. The best way to find out is to visit your primary care physician and see exactly what’s going on.”

Many viral illnesses need time to run their course, despite treatment, Dr. Voutsalath said.

Some of the treatments are the same for either ailment.

“There is some overlap,” she said. She recommends saline nasal rinses and/or steroid nasal sprays for both.

Most over-the-counter remedies are somewhat effective, especially if allergies are mild, she added. “Some people may need prescription medication, especially if they have asthma as well.”

It is common for people with allergies also to have asthma, she said.

“If symptoms persist or worsen, it may be a viral infection that can turn into a bacterial infection,” she said. That’s when it’s important to visit your primary care physician.

It’s also a good idea to see your doctor if allergy symptoms are making your life miserable, she said.

There are new approaches to treating allergies.

“If symptoms are severe or not managed with medications, I would refer a patient to an allergist to have testing performed to identify what the patient is allergic to, because there are options for allergy shots or other immunotherapy. They now have oral allergy treatments that can be done through allergists.”

You don’t need to suffer endlessly.

“There is hope,” she said. “There is hope!”

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs and a regular contributor to UCHealth Today. She has written travel articles for major U.S. newspapers and national, regional and local magazines. She spent 32 years as an award-winning writer, reporter and editor for The Gazette in Colorado Springs.