Cold: a cold or an allergy?

Is it hay fever or did I catch a cold? The answer is not always easy, but it is important for treatment. Seven helpful hints

The nose is running, a feeling of pressure spreads in the head, and a loud "Hatschi!" echoes through the room: symptoms such as the urge to sneeze, a runny nose and obstructed nasal breathing due to swollen nasal mucous membranes are typical of a cold. These symptoms can occur with both a cold and an allergy. However, an allergic runny nose is no trivial matter. There is a risk that it will develop into asthma if the allergy is not treated in time. The following hints help to distinguish whether an allergy or a cold is plaguing the nose:

1. Season and regularity

There are well over 100 rhinoviruses that cause colds. "Up to 20 different types circulate in one season," explains biologist Anja Schwalfenberg from the German Allergy and Asthma Association (DAAB). So it is quite normal to catch a cold every now and then, especially during the cold season.

However, if the cold occurs at a certain time of the year every year, for example in spring, it should definitely be clarified whether it is an allergy. For example, a response to pollen. Because every fourth adult has already experienced hay fever symptoms firsthand. "If your nose is runny in autumn, for example, you usually do not immediately think of an allergy. But this cold too could be allergic, for example a reaction to house dust mites," says Schwalfenberg.

2. Start and duration

If the runny nose has set in very suddenly and severely without warning, the trigger is more of an allergic reaction - a cold, on the other hand, often announces itself with a headache and itchy throat. For colds there is the saying: "He comes for three days, he stands for three days, and leaves for three days." So it should start to subside after about a week. If the cold symptoms last much longer, you should also think of an allergic cause.

3. Time of day and location dependency

"With a house dust allergy, you get most of the allergens off while you sleep. That is why the allergic reaction is typically worst early in the morning," says Schwalfenberg. In the case of pollen allergies, however, the symptoms often increase outdoors. However, those affected can also drag pollen into the house and bed on their hair and clothing and suffer as a result at home. Or the pollen comes into the room through the open window.

Prolonged rain can wash most of the pollen out of the air, so hay fever symptoms often subside afterwards. "Thunderstorms with strong winds and large drops can also release a particularly large number of pollen allergens," warns Schwalfenberg. Doctors therefore advise those affected not to stay outside before and after a strong thunderstorm and to keep the windows closed for several hours.

A cold, on the other hand, does not depend on the weather or where you are.

4. Nature of the secretion

It is worthwhile to carefully observe the consistency of what the nose secretes: In the course of a cold, the nose often gives off a yellow-greenish colored secretion when blowing the nose. In the case of an allergic runny nose, on the other hand, it is and usually remains clear and watery.

5. Additional symptoms

An additional allergy symptom can be itching, for example on the nose, eyes or throat. Sneezing attacks with multiple excessive sneezes in direct succession also speak for an allergy. "If, on the other hand, there is a fever or even chills, this more likely indicates a cold or the onset of flu," says Schwalfenberg.

If a cough persists for a long time, a doctor should clarify this. There are many reasons for a cough.In asthma it can be the first symptom.

6. Familial accumulation

If family members have already developed allergies, there may be a hereditary susceptibility to allergies. Then there is a higher risk for the relatives of developing it as well. However, a cold can also be passed on to the family.

7. Effect of the medication

The doctor can recommend or prescribe antiallergic or anti-inflammatory drugs for acute allergic complaints. So-called antihistamines work within a short time. "Significant relief from symptoms within twenty minutes of taking an antihistamine suggests an allergy," says Schwalfenberg. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as nasal sprays containing cortisone take a little longer and usually take effect after a few days.

Inhalations can help with colds because they moisten the airways and the mucus becomes thinner, so that the accumulation of secretions in the nose, sinuses and bronchi decreases. A nasal douche dissolves stuck secretions. But it also supports therapy in the case of allergic rhinitis by flushing the pollen from the mucous membrane. Note: If the sinuses are severely inflamed and pus, experts advise against a nasal douche.

Video: How does hay fever develop?

Cold or Allergy? It can be both!

Do both criteria for a cold and hay fever apply? Then maybe it's both. Because of course allergy sufferers can catch a cold too. "And in the case of asthma, cold viruses can even be shown to intensify asthma attacks," adds Schwalfenberg.