How do I know my perennial allergic rhinitis isn't just a cold?

Both colds and perennial allergies cause rhinitis. Because the symptoms are similar, it can be hard to tell the difference between colds and allergies. One way to tell the difference is that, with a cold, you are more likely to develop a cough, fever and muscle aches, while allergies almost never cause a fever and muscle aches. Allergies, on the other hand, do often cause itchy eyes and throat, while this is rare with a cold.

Perennial allergic rhinitis is usually diagnosed by its symptoms. The cause of a particular person's allergic rhinitis may be found by keeping a written record of symptoms and their triggers or with a blood test. A doctor may also try a skin prick test, which involves poking a tiny amount of a possible allergen into your skin to see if you have a reaction.

People with allergies to substances commonly found in their environments, such as dust or pet dander, are more likely to get perennial allergic rhinitis. People who have asthma are also more likely to have perennial allergies as well as other types of allergies. Men tend to get allergic rhinitis more than women, too. You also have an increased risk if you were around cigarette smoke before you reached your first birthday.

In general, perennial allergic rhinitis is not serious, although it can be very inconvenient. However, secondary infections, such as ear infections and sinus infections do occasionally occur as complications of perennial allergies. Hearing problems and nasal polyps are also possible complications of perennial allergic rhinitis, and asthma is associated with perennial allergies as well.

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Ask yourself these questions to determine whether your perennial allergic rhinitis (a runny nose due to allergies) isn’t just a cold:

  • Are you running a fever? Sometimes there's fever with a cold or flu but never with allergies.
  • Is your mucus clear (which means allergies), or yellow or green (a sign of a cold or sinus infection)?
  • Do your eyes itch? Itchy eyes usually means allergies.
  • Are you achy? You probably have a cold.
  • Do you have a sore throat? Most likely you have a cold.
  • Have your symptoms lasted longer than two weeks? A cold lasts a week to 10 days usually, while allergies may continue far longer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.