In the winter, a cold is never confused for allergies—you know, because everything outside is dead and covered with snow. But in the summer? Even a doc says it's tough to tease out the correct diagnosis. "Let's face it: You get a runny nose, watery eyes, and a cough—they're all very nonspecific. It's incredibly difficult even for physicians to decide at first because there's so much crossover in the signs and symptoms," Eric Stander, MD, clinical service chief of the emergency department at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, tells me.
Despite being so alike, there are some clues to help you identify whether you have a bad summer cold or are a proud new owner of seasonal allergies. Here are eight to start with, straight from an expert.
Here are 8 ways to tell the difference between a summer cold and allergies.
1. You have a fever.
Feeling a little warm? Having a cold can sometimes result in a low-grade fever, says Dr. Stander, which is any temp above the normal body temp of 98.6° F and below 100.4° F. With allergies, on the other hand, a fever isn't one of the typical symptoms.
2. Your mucus isn't clear.
While mucus occurs in both colds and allergies, what it looks like can be pretty telling. For allergies, Dr. Stander says mucus is most commonly "pretty clear and doesn't tend to cloud up at all." With colds, it's more common for your mucus to be a little thicker—and if you have a bacterial infection, it could be yellow or green.
3. You have muscle aches.
If your body has been feeling achy and you know it's not because of a workout class, the culprit may be a cold. According to Dr. Stander, even though it is possible to have muscle and joint aches with allergies, it's much more likely that the symptoms are from a cold.
4. You have a sore throat.
When you have a cold, Dr. Stander says your runny nose and cough is likely accompanied by a sore throat—something you don't typically get with allergies. An itchy throat instead of a sore throat, on the other hand, is a good indication of allergies. Pro tip: Sipping on a tea with lemon and honey might give you some natural relief.
5. You're not itchy.
Itchiness in general—whether it's your eyes, nose, mouth, throat, you name it—is a common symptom of allergies, reports the Mayo Clinic. In colds, you'll most likely just be be congested.
6. You don't have an appetite.
According to Dr. Stander, having a cold might make you "feel a little nauseous or not hungry"—a major difference between the two, since allergies shouldn't impact your appetite.
7. You're totally drained of energy.
Feeling a little sluggish? Your cold is probably to blame. Dr. Stander says having decreased energy levels is a solid sign you have a bug. Even though allergies can make you feel lousy, they don't affect your ability to take on your day, exactly—besides the breaks you take to cope with the itchy eyes and sneezing.
8. You feel crappy inside and outside your home.
Because allergies come about from something in the environment, they tend to be worse when you're outdoors, which makes it easy to discern what you're dealing with. "If you go inside and things feel like they clear up because you're in the air-conditioning and away from the pollen and other allergens, it's more likely to be an allergy," Dr. Stander says. And if you generally feel awful wherever you are, a cold it is.
If after those hints you're still unsure what's going on with your body, it's always best practice to see a professional for next steps.
This four-ingredient, immune-boosting routine is your summer cold's worst enemy. Or, find out how scientists could be close to curing the common cold.
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