Tuesday 16 March 2010, 09:09

Is it hay fever or is it a cold?

How to differentiate between hay fever and a common cold

Is it hay fever or is it a cold?

Allergic rhinitis, commonly called hay fever, causes cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure. However, unlike a cold, which is caused by a virus, hay fever results from an allergic reaction to indoor or outdoor airborne allergens, such as tree or grass pollen, pet dander, dust mites and spores from fungi and molds.


It is important being able to differentiate symptoms caused by hay fever from those caused by a cold, since prevention and treatment of the two conditions are quite different.


One of the first aspects to take into consideration is the duration of symptoms. A cold usually lasts for about three to ten days, while hay fever lasts as long as exposure to allergens continues and sometimes gets worse over many months. It may be triggered by either seasonal (pollen) or perennial (dust mites, pet dander) allergens.


Other key differences between a cold and hay fever concern their onset, the presence or absence of certain symptoms, such as fever and itching around the nose, and the character of nasal discharge. While symptoms of a common cold usually appear from one to three days after exposure to a cold virus, hay fever onset usually occurs immediately after exposure to allergens. 


Fever often accompanies respiratory illnesses caused by viral infections such as colds and flu, but is not likely to occur with hay fever (despite the confusing name). Itching is a typical feature of allergic reactions: that’s why hay fever is most often accompanied by an uncomfortable sensation of itching inside and around the nose. However itching sensation is not a characteristic of a cold. Finally the nasal discharge tends to be watery and clear in hay fever patients, while a viral infection tends to produce a thick yellow nasal discharge.


To sum up what has been said thus far, hay fever develops immediately after exposure to allergens, lasts as long as exposure continues and is characterized by lack of fever, an itching sensation around the nose and a profuse watery nasal discharge. By contrast, the symptoms of a cold appear from one to three days after exposure to a cold virus, last for about three to ten days and are characterized by fever, lack of itching and a thick yellow nasal discharge.


Thus, being aware of what symptoms are most frequently observed in these two different conditions may help differentiate between them and avoid delaying proper diagnosis and treatment.


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Allergy

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