Allergies vs Colds: Learn the Differences and Ways to Prevent Both
Learn How an Air Purifier Can Protect You From Allergies and Colds
By Bianca Herron
12 min read
Allergies and colds can strike at any time, affecting both your home and work life. They can keep you from focusing during a work meeting, doing chores in the yard, or spending time with your family.
Knowing the difference between allergies and colds can better help you navigate your daily life and keep you and your family safe, healthy, and active.
Allergies and colds have different triggers, and knowing the causes and symptoms can help you pick the right air purifier to remove allergens and germs from your home.
An allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to normally harmless substances called allergens that often don’t cause a reaction in most people. Examples of allergens are mold, dust mites, pollen, bee venom, pet dander, and even food.
Medical professionals estimate that one-quarter of the population is affected by allergies, with children making up roughly half of allergy sufferers. Allergies can be chronic in some people, and reactions can be dangerous. It would be best if you took allergies seriously because the same substances that trigger your hay fever symptoms can also cause asthma.
If you have allergies, your immune system produces antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful to you even though it might not be harmful to others. When you contact an allergen, the reaction can inflame your sinuses, airways, skin, or digestive system.
Allergies can affect people differently, ranging from minor irritations to anaphylaxis, which can be a potentially life-threatening emergency if not treated immediately.
Symptoms of allergies include:
- Runny nose
- Watery and itchy eyes
- Swollen lips or eyes
- Skin rash
- Scratchy throat
- Swollen tongue
- Trouble breathing
- Stomach irritation
- Diarrhea and vomiting
Although most allergies aren’t curable, treatments can help relieve your symptoms. If over-the-counter allergy medication doesn’t work, you should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
A cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract, including your nose and throat. Many types of viruses can cause the common cold, and while it might not feel harmless, it often is.
Healthy adults can catch a cold two or three times a year. Children younger than six are more susceptible to colds.
A cold usually runs its course in a week to 10 days. Symptoms can last longer in people who smoke. If your symptoms don’t clear up, see your doctor before they get worse.
Symptoms of a common cold include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Low-grade fever
It’s important to know whether you have an allergy or a cold. People sometimes mix them up because they produce similar symptoms, like stuffiness and sniffles. If you understand the difference, you can seek the proper treatment.
You probably have an allergy if your symptoms stay the same. While allergies can lead to intense symptoms for the first few days, those symptoms will remain the same and not vary.
Other ways to tell you have an allergy are if your mucus stays clear or watery, your eyes are itchy and watery, and if you have the sniffles for more than a week. Allergies can affect you for long periods, while a cold usually clears up in a week to 10 days. Allergies can affect you during spring when flowers bloom and pollen is airborne, while colds traditionally hit in the late fall and winter.
The main symptoms of a cold that differ from those caused by allergies are coughing, fever, and body aches. A cold’s symptoms also change every few days, perhaps starting with a minor fever and stuffiness, followed by a sore throat, cough, and pressure in your sinuses.
If your immune system is fighting a cold, your mucus will be yellow, green, or thick. There is no cure for a common cold, so you need to let it run its course. However, you can make yourself more comfortable by drinking plenty of fluids and taking over-the-counter medications.
There are many ways to prevent allergies. Many of them have to do with limiting the time you spend outdoors or monitoring conditions to pick the best time to go out.
Millions of people have seasonal allergies, especially in the spring when blooming flowers and pollen can lead to sneezing, a runny nose, and congestion. Hay fever can seem like a cold, but allergens in the air cause it.
You can reduce your exposure to allergens by staying indoors on dry, windy days. You can delegate yard work such as mowing the lawn or pulling weeds to someone without allergies, or perhaps do them a day or so after the rain has cleared pollen from the air.
Other tips include wearing a pollen mask, hanging laundry in the garage instead of outside, and showering after being outdoors. Also, close the windows whenever pollen counts are high.
Keeping indoor air clean is essential. Run the air conditioner in your house and your car, and make sure you use high-efficiency filters for your HVAC system and follow regular maintenance schedules.
You can also use a dehumidifier or a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) air purifier in your bedroom or other rooms where you spend a good deal of time.
Several over-the-counter medications are available to help counter allergy symptoms. They include decongestants, oral antihistamines, and nasal spray. Some medicines combine an antihistamine and a decongestant, such as Claritin-D and Allegra-D.
Likewise, there are several ways to prevent a cold. Among them are washing your hands often with soap and hot water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Since viruses that cause colds can stick on your hands, avoid touching any part of your face with unwashed hands, particularly your eyes and mouth.
Avoid being around people who are sick. Likewise, if you have a cold, stay home from work and avoid close contact with others.
If you have to cough or sneeze, use a tissue or cover your mouth and nose with your upper arm. Afterward, wash your hands well and use hand sanitizer.
It would help if you also disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, such as light switches, faucets, doorknobs, and countertops, as well as objects like your cell phone and children’s toys.
Air purifiers can prevent both allergies and colds because they remove the tiniest microbes from the air. They reduce harmful airborne germs that include cold and flu viruses and particles that aggravate allergies such as dust, pollen, mold spores, pet dander, and smoke particles.
It would help if you considered using a portable air purifier in the rooms where you spend most of your time, such as your bedroom or TV room. Air purifiers circulate air several times per hour, leaving it clean and healthy. Look for a model with a HEPA filter, which is what most doctors and allergists recommend. Find out how much air the filter will clean, and make sure you get one that is big enough for the area you place it.
HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. A HEPA filter works by forcing air through a fine mesh that traps harmful particles such as dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and even cigarette smoke.
Using a HEPA filter in your home is an important first step, but not the only one. While they can remove airborne particles that trigger your allergies, there are more particles in your bedding, drapes, and rugs, so it’s important to clean those items often.
Air purifiers can also prevent colds. While germs often settle onto surfaces such as countertops and furniture, they also float in the air. Germs tend to cling to other particles as they float in the air, including pet dander and dust. That increases the chance for filters to pick them up and remove them from the air you breathe.
If you already have a cold, using an air purifier will improve the air quality and ease some of your symptoms.
It would help if you considered an air purifier as a long-term investment, much as you would a significant appliance, so capacity and quality are among the things to keep in mind.
The critical factor is to pick an air purifier with the proper capacity for the room’s size. You might need an air purifier with more significant coverage if the room is congested and contains many allergens.
You can also select an air purifier that is allergen-specific. For instance, if you have pets, you’ll want an air purifier that can handle dander and the fur they shed, as well as odors. Other allergens to focus on include mildew and mold.
Next, focus on the filtration system. The best filtration system is HEPA filtration, which is also known as True HEPA. Do not settle for a system that is labeled “HEPA-like.” HEPA filters contain highly absorbent material that captures air particles as small as 0.3 microns in size, giving them a high-efficiency level.
Look for a model with automatic sensors that can adjust the fan’s speed based on the air quality, alerts you for when it’s time to change the filters and has display panels that are soothing to the eyes, especially at night when you’re trying to sleep. Also, shop for an air purifier that quietly moves air through your room. Some models can be noisier than you might like.
Be sure to find out how often you’ll need to replace filters and factor that cost into the air purifier’s overall cost. Changing the filters as recommended is key to getting the maximum performance out of your air purifier to keep you and your family as healthy as possible.
When shopping for an air purifier, be sure to look for one that can meet both you and your family’s needs, particularly if any of you suffer from asthma. Finding the best product at the best price will give you peace of mind that you will have a happy, healthy home life.
Some studies have shown that air purifiers can help relieve asthma symptoms, particularly in children. For instance, certain air purifiers might be better at removing specific allergens such as smoke. The factors that determine an air purifier’s effectiveness against asthma symptoms include the airflow rate of the purifier, the filter’s design, the purifier’s location in your home, and the size and origin of the allergen particles.
Ensure the air purifier you choose meets HEPA requirements, meaning it will filter out the very smallest particles. For the best health results, the air purifier you select should both filter and sanitize the air.