Throat scratchy? Sneezing? Is it a cold or do you have an allergy?

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Spring is here and lots of things are blooming — flowers, trees, grass, and … sneezes. Yep, it’s allergy season.

Some allergy symptoms are similar to cold symptoms. How can you tell the difference? Here’s what Dr. Marguerite Pennoyer, an allergy specialist in Scarborough, Maine has to say:

Is it a cold or allergies?

Both allergies and colds can be miserable, leaving us feeling wretched and drained. As someone who has suffered from both, it can often be difficult to tell the difference at first.

Sometimes the time of year can be a tip off. Seasonal allergies have an obvious timing around our pollen seasons, but in the middle of winter, it can be difficult to distinguish a cold from an allergy to an indoor allergen such as dust mites, molds or our pets.

Allergies are almost always associated with itching of the nose, eyes and even the throat and ears. This is caused by the histamine released in an allergic reaction and the reason antihistamines are often helpful in allergies. Itching is uncommon with colds and viruses, which is the reason antihistamines usually don’t help much during a cold.

On the other hand, colds are usually associated with a sore throat, fever, chills, and muscle achiness. This can often be the best way to distinguish between a cold and an allergic reaction.

Both colds and allergies can otherwise cause many of the same symptoms with a running and dripping nose, sneezing, sinus pressure and headaches.

The American Academy of Allergy and Immunology is a great resource for questions on your allergies.

Can allergies develop/get worse/or change as you get older?

It often feels as if allergies develop or worsen as we get older. In fact the rate of allergies is higher among younger adults. In studies that have looked at allergies it appears that allergies to house dust mite and cat clearly decrease as people get older, but grass allergy may persist.

In a study of Brown University students, their pollen allergies appeared to last for an average of 25 years. Unfortunately, allergies can always develop to new allergens as we age and new allergies can appear in 80- year-olds as well as 8-year-olds. Nasal and eye membrane dryness and hormonal changes as we age can contribute to the severity of nasal and eye symptoms due to your allergies. Unfortunately, nothing usually improves with age, but maybe we can look forward to a little decrease in our allergies.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.