Do you have allergies, a cold or the flu? Here’s how to tell

Is it a cold? Allergies? Or the flu? An expert breaks it down for us. Getty Images

As we move into colder months you may find yourself sneezing and sniffling a little bit more, but how do you know if you have allergies, or a cold or flu?

University of Alabama at Birmingham ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, Dr. Do-Yeon Cho, has outlined how to tell the difference so you can prevent and treat fall allergies effectively.

Know your symptoms

Runny nose, stuffy nose and congestion are all crossover symptoms between allergies and the flu that can make it difficult to tell them apart, however, flu symptoms tend to be more severe and can include a headache, fatigue, general aches and pains and a high fever that lasts three to four days.

READ MORE: Allergy season continues “inside” for fall and winter

Check how long symptoms last

Allergies also tend to last longer than a cold or the flu, with Cho explaining that, “colds and flu rarely last beyond two weeks. Allergy symptoms usually last as long as you’re exposed to the allergen, which may be about six weeks during pollen seasons in the spring, summer or fall.”

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Be aware of the causes

Every season brings different allergens, with Cho recommending a visit to an ENT or allergist for simple skin tests or blood work to find out what might be your triggers.

READ MORE: Treating a sore throat caused by a common cold or flu

He adds that common fall triggers include smoke from fireplaces, candy ingredients, pine trees and wreaths, pollen from weeds, mould spores, which can grow not only in damp bathrooms and basements but even in wet piles of autumn leaves, and dust mites, which can be stirred into the air the first time someone turns on their central heat in the colder season.

Take steps to prevent

Cho advises consulting with an ENT or allergist to come up with the most effective plan to avoid flare-ups.

However, precautions you can take on a daily basis include limiting outdoor activities when pollen counts are high, taking allergy medication before pollen season begins to prevent the body from releasing histamines and other chemicals that cause allergic symptoms, using high-efficiency particulate absorbance (HEPA) air filters to help reduce exposure to allergens, and maintaining levels of cleanliness to prevent allergic reactions.

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This includes showering and shampooing daily before going to bed, washing bedding in hot, soapy water, and drying clothes in a clothes dryer, not on an outdoor line. Cho also recommends changing clothes worn for outdoor activities, as pollen and other allergens tend to cling to fabrics.

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Find an effective treatment

Fall allergies can often be treated with over-the-counter medications, such as nasal steroid sprays and oral/nasal antihistamines. New studies have also shown that a combination of oral antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays can be even more effective.

“Allergy shots are another potential cure for certain allergies and can be useful in controlling allergy symptoms when avoidance measures and medications provide incomplete relief,” adds Cho.

READ MORE: Do old wives tales and home remedies really help with the common cold?

As allergies and treatments can vary from person to person, if over-the-counter medication is not working, consult with an ENT or allergy specialist.

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