How to tell the difference between a cold or allergies

5 Ways to Help Patients Determine if Between Colds and Allergies

Many patients come to your location with symptoms that could be related either to a cold or to allergies. This is due to the fact that both produce very similar symptoms. Congestion, a runny nose, sore throat and cough are just a few of the reasons that there are many full waiting rooms at certain times of the year.

Educating patients about the ways that a cold might differ from allergies may help to lift some of the burden from a practice that has too many patients waiting for diagnosis and not quite enough medical professionals.

Causes of the Common Cold

A cold is most commonly caused when individuals are exposed to a virus. Over 200 known viruses have been identified as they cause colds. The most common of these are rhinoviruses which are estimated to cause anywhere between 10-14 percent of adult colds. These are viruses that use the mouth, nose or eyes as an entry point. They travel through the air via droplets which are produced when someone bearing the virus coughs or sneezes. They can also travel on hands, leaving contamination on anything from doorknobs to toys and phones.

The common cold is referred to by medical professionals as a viral upper respiratory tract infection. Individuals never build a complete resistance to colds as new viruses are continually developing.

Colds occur with the most frequency in cool-weather months. This may be due to the fact that most modern homes and buildings depend on recycled warmed air to maintain comfort instead of introducing fresh (cold) air continually.

Causes of Allergies

There may be as many causes for allergy symptoms as there are types of cold-causing viruses. Some of the largest allergens include:

  • Insect stings or bites
  • Animal Dander
  • Foods
  • Pollen

In addition these well-known allergens, there are some lesser items that cause similar symptoms. Some of these are:

  • Latex
  • Household chemicals
  • Mold
  • Dust Mites
  • Medications

With such a wide variety of items that may be causing allergies, it can be hard for an individual to know exactly what they are allergic to. Allergy testing is available that can help pinpoint what allergens individuals should work to avoid.

Such testing might involve a blood test, skin prick test or patch test. Food allergies may require a patient to undergo an elimination diet or a food challenge test.

Comparison of Cold and Allergy Symptoms

Arming your patients with advice about how to figure out if they are suffering from a cold or from allergies may be beneficial for both doctor and patient. Here are 5 things that patients may want to consider:

  1. Duration – Typically, symptoms of a cold last between 3 and 14 days. Any longer than that and chances are high that the patient is suffering from an ongoing allergic reaction.
  2. Mucus Color – The typical rule of thumb is that clear mucus tends to be due to allergies while mucus that is yellow or green is more likely to be from a cold.
  3. Time of Year – Allergies, especially the seasonal variety, tend to be highest in the spring, summer and fall of the year. Patients who experience the same type of symptoms at the same time each year may want to undergo allergy testing.
  4. Salute – Once a patient is introduced to the “allergic salute”, they may begin to see it everywhere. This telltale allergy sign is common among children who repeatedly push up on their nose using the palm of their hand to make it stop itching. Some may even develop a small crease or line across the bridge of their nose due to the repeated upward pressure. At times, children who have a cold may use this wiping method as well, but a constantly repeated action is far more likely to be because of allergies.
  5. Fever – Any sign of a fever when an individual has cold or allergy symptoms tend to point directly toward a cold, as the body uses a fever in an effort to burn off the virus or bacteria. Allergies typically do not produce any rise in body temperature.

Informed Patients are Happy Patients

The more information you can share with your patients, they happier they may be. For instance, if they are able to decide that they most likely have a cold, they will be able to save time driving to the office for advice on how to deal with allergy symptoms. Alternatively, patients suffering from early cold symptoms are sure to benefit when they make an appointment early in the illness. An in-house dispensary can only help to raise patient satisfaction rates should they need any type of medication to offset the symptoms from their cold.

Leave a Reply