Sniffles, sneezing and itchy eyes: Do I have a cold, allergies or worse?

SHHC-1959_photo_Antihistamines vs decongestants_600x400
It’s a seasonal mystery many people face in springtime — are allergies or a cold to blame for those itchy and watery eyes, runny nose and coughing? Or is something else going on?

Common cold vs. allergies vs. sinus infection

Keep watch on how long that cough, itchy/watery eyes and congested nose hang around. If they last longer than seven to ten days, you’re likely facing allergies. Antihistamines usually provide the best treatment.

Confusion arrives when people treat allergy symptoms like a cold and take a decongestant for relief, possibly for weeks on end. Avoid using decongestant nasal sprays for more than three straight days; they may make nasal congestion worse and last longer (known as “rebound congestion”).

Indicators of a sinus infection include a headache, facial pressure, loss of taste or smell and chronic fatigue — combined with inflamed nasal passages. If those symptoms don’t go away within a week, consider seeing your doctor.

Advice for tackling allergies

Oral antihistamines are the medication backbone of allergy treatment. These meds can block many of the symptoms of allergies that occur outside of the eyes.

Although the newer agents cause less drowsiness than the older agents, all can cause issues with headache, dry mouth, upset stomach and nervousness (mostly in children).

Other treatments can include eye drops, nasal steroid spray or a decongestant (if congestion is a problem). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more advice for fighting allergy season with medications.

Simple, non-medication ways to keep allergies at bay include:

  • Avoiding outside chores (if possible)
  • Closing home and car windows
  • Purchasing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) A/C or furnace filters and change them regularly
  • Using a HEPA filter equipped vacuum to regularly clean carpeting, rugs and floors
If those none of these steps bring relief, allergy shots may provide another solution. See your doctor for more details.