Is it a cold or is your backyard causing allergies?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Backyard allergies

The fall season is upon us and with the change many of us can expect colds and allergies. But how do you know if you have a cold virus or if symptoms of runny nose, headache or cough are the result of allergies?

The truth is it might be hard to tell, even for your health care provider. Allergy and cold symptoms are similar and include sneezing, cough and nasal congestion.

To find out which you have, pay attention to your body. The main differences between allergy and the common cold that is caused by dozens of viruses include:

* How long the symptoms last
* Nature of the cough
* Presence of a fever
* Itchy or watery eyes
* Sore throat
* Color of nasal drainage

Colds versus allergy

The common cold doesn't last as long as allergies that can occur year round. We usually get colds in the winter, which can be another clue. A cold that seems to last more than 14 day is probably an allergy.

A cold makes us cough more often. Conversely, allergy symptoms tend to come and go, for instance mid-day when pollen counts are highest. What that means is occasional coughing is more likely from allergy symptoms.

Allergy symptoms should never cause a fever. When we have cold or flu, a low-grade fever can accompany other symptoms, though not always.

Itchy watery eyes are also less likely to plague us when we have a cold. But when allergy season arrives, it's often one of the first symptoms.

Nasal drainage that is yellow or green is probably from a cold; not allergies.

Common symptoms of colds an allergies


Both colds and allergy can make you feel fatigued and both can give you a sore throat. One distinguishing characteristic of a cold is that a sore throat occurs more often.

The National Institutes of health has this chart that can help you know if you have a cold that will go away soon or whether you should see a specialist for allergy testing that can make a huge difference in the way you feel with seasonal changes.

How to avoid allergens in your yard

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) also has some tips to help minimize allergens outside of your home, highlighted in a recent press release.

Allergist Richard Weber, MD, president of the ACAAI said: “Many people think you can only control the environment inside the home, but there are also precautions you can take to help eliminate allergens outside as well.”

* Keep leaves raked and avoid working outside in the afternoon and midday

* If you do suffer from allergies, wear a pollen mask when you're doing yard work

* Put on your sunglasses to prevent pollen from irritating your eyes and wear gloves to keep allergens from getting into your airways

* Keep your grass short, even in the winter to prevent blooms that can spread pollen

* Consider taking allergy medicine before going outdoors

Choose which flowers you plant wisely, as many can make your allergies worse. Weber recommends:

* Daffodil
* Lilac
* Magnolia
* Rose
* Sunflower

As fall and winter approach, remember to wash your hands frequently, avoid others who are sick, and stay away from substances that you know you are allergic to. If you know your suffer from allergies, follow the above steps to decrease the number of allergens in your yard.