Sniffing, Sneezing, Watery Eyes…Is It Allergies?

pharmacy_thumb2by Kimberly White-Faull, Rph & Katie Reynolds, PharmD of The Pharmacy at Southwest Health

We have waited patiently, and the warmer weather is finally here!  With it arrive the green grass, beautiful trees & blooming flowers. For many it also means a stuffy or runny nose!

So is it allergies, or is it a common cold?  The two share some of the same symptoms, and it can sometimes be hard to tell which you are suffering from.  Both can cause sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, fatigue and cough.  However, there are some symptoms that differ between allergies and colds which help us tell them apart.

If it is an allergy, you may get watery, itchy eyes, ears, or throat.  With a cold, you may experience a sore or scratchy throat, fever or chills, and body aches and pains. If you develop a “cold” suddenly and often at the same time every year, it may be seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies are our immune system’s response allergens in the air, while the common cold is caused by a virus.

Another way we can distinguish if it is a cold or allergies is the duration of symptoms. A typical cold usually lasts 10 days, whereas untreated allergy symptoms can last for months. Often, allergies occur the same time each year, while colds typically occur during fall and winter.


Treatment of the common cold may include rest, hydration, pain relievers and decongestants.  In most cases, colds will clear up on their own. But, if your symptoms last longer than 10 to 14 days and are not helped by over-the counter medications, it may be time to seek medical care.

Treatment of seasonal allergies may include nasal steroid sprays and oral antihistamines.  Beyond medications, there are numerous ways to reduce your exposure to pollen and plants that can trigger allergies. Close windows to prevent allergens from breezing into your home or car, and use the air conditioner instead. Stay inside on windy days when the highest amounts of pollen are likely to be in the air. It will also help to remove clothes you’ve worn outside when entering your home, avoid hanging laundry outside, and clean your floors and fabrics frequently with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter.

While both colds and allergies can usually be effectively treated with over-the-counter medications, it’s important to be aware of the medications you are taking.  Some products contain more than one active ingredient, which may lead to ‘drug-overlap’ if you are taking several products.  For example Claritin-D contains an antihistamine and a decongestant, and if you are taking it along with Pseudophed (another decongestant), you may be getting too much.  It’s important to read the labels carefully. If you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

The pharmacy staff at the Pharmacy at Southwest Health is available and eager to answer all of your medication questions. And, we’re here to help you get the most out of your medications, too. Call 608-342-6200 or visit

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