When Agitators Attack: Allergies vs. Viruses

March 17, 2016

Teira Gunlock

You’ve had a dull headache for days. Your nose just won’t stop running. A string of tissues follows you everywhere you go, and it’s really starting to get annoying. So where did this come from? Was someone sick at work? Or maybe it’s because of all the blooming trees?

Allergies affect a lot of people. According to WebMD, 2 out of 3 people with chronic symptoms like runny nose, cough, and congestion have allergies, not allergic rhinitis. Even more shocking, 4 million workdays are lost each year to hay fever. What!?!?  

Allergies and viruses can share many similar symptoms, making them hard to distinguish from one another. If you can’t pinpoint the cause of your pain, you’ll have a hard time treating it now and preventing it in the future.

Both allergies and viruses may cause sneezing and create that stuffed up feeling––but there are some key differences that can help you figure out whether it’s pollen that’s the culprit or a pesky (but treatable) virus.

what’s the difference?

Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system that triggers in response to an allergen (e.g., pollen, mold, dust, etc.). The body mistakes harmless things for germs and starts to defend itself. *cue powerful sneezes and watery eyes*

Viruses are annoying little things that get you sick, most commonly causing a cold or flu. When you feel at your worst with a cold, your body is actually fighting off the virus! Colds are contagious and can be transferred inside water molecules in the air, or even something as simple as a handshake.

Do I have a virus or an allergy?

The easiest way to determine if you have an allergy or, for example, a cold, is the duration of time you’re sick. If it’s any longer than two weeks, you most likely have an allergy. There are other symptoms that can be indicative of allergies. Typically, itchy and watery eyes indicate allergies and not a cold. Lots of sneezing and tingling in your nose can mean you likely have allergies, as well. However, some allergies don’t present with those symptoms, so it can be hard to tell when the symptoms first start to appear.

The time of year can also be an indicator of what’s affecting you. Spring or early fall? Most likely allergies setting in. Late fall and winter? This is where viruses really start to take over and spread. This rule isn’t hard and fast, but it’s good to take into account when assessing your symptoms and options.

Signs to look for with a cold/virus:

  • runny nose (with colored mucus)
  • coughing
  • general fatigue
  • sore throat
  • fever

Signs to look for with an allergy:

  • runny nose (with clear mucus)
  • itchy eyes/skin
  • frequent sneezing
  • persistent coughing

When Self-Diagnoses Isn’t Enough

If your cough won’t go away or the symptoms don’t seem to be letting up, it may be time to stop fighting the battle on your own. Call First Stop Health, your employer-provided telemedicine service, and you can talk to a U.S.-based licensed physician who can make the diagnosis and recommend treatment.

There’s no need to run to the urgent care or keep suffering –– we can help determine whether a virus has or if it’s an allergy that’s keeping you down. In either case, your telehealth doctor can recommend a prescription or over-the-counter treatments that can get you back to normal as soon as possible.

Instead of waiting out the two-week period to determine whether you have an allergy or virus, utilize your telemedicine benefits and give us a call right away to solve any sniffle-related problems you may have. The earlier you catch your agitator, the sooner that string of tissues will disappear!

Originally published Mar 17, 2016 12:00:00 PM.