Fall Sniffles: Allergies or a Common Cold?


Now that fall is officially here, our weather is starting to cool off. But until winter and the first freeze hits, a lot of northern Nevadans may be struggling with fall allergies. Marie McCormack, MD, outlines the differences between fall allergies and the common cold, as well as how to get some relief.

Sniffles, sneezes and red, itchy eyes: Is is a cold, or is it allergies? Marie McCormack, MD, primary care physician with Renown Medical Group, breaks it down.

How common are fall allergies?

Ragweed is the biggest allergy trigger in the fall — it usually starts in August and can last into October. About 75 percent of people allergic to spring plants also have reactions to ragweed, which can even be carried on fruits and vegetables.

Mold and dust mites are other common fall allergy triggers. Mold can be more common as temperatures cool down and we see some stormy weather. Piles of damp leaves are also potential breeding grounds for mold.

And inside, dust mites are common as you turn on your heater for the first time. So be sure to clean your filters before cranking up the heat.

How can people tell the difference between allergies and a cold?

Differentiating between fall allergies and colds can be tricky. Here are some things to watch for:

  • With allergies, your throat will feel itchier, while with a cold it will be sore and painful.
  • With a cold, symptoms are progressive. So you may start with a sore throat that turns into a runny or stuffy nose and then a cough. But after a few days, a cold will run its course, whereas allergies likely won’t quit without treatment or weather changes.
  • You may have a cough with your cold, but allergies usually produce more sneezing and wheezing.
  • Allergies typically pop up almost out of nowhere, and colds typically progress with symptoms getting worse over a few days.

How can you prevent allergies?

There are a number of little things you can do to help relieve and prevent allergies all year.

  • Keep your windows closed and use the air conditioning at home, in the office and in the car.
  • If you find yourself especially susceptible, change clothes and shower after work, school or going outside.
  • Avoid yard work as raking leaves and mowing the grass can increase pollen.
  • Stay inside when it gets windy.
  • Exercise in the morning before the wind picks up.

When should someone go to their doctor for allergies?

If nasal sprays and washes and over-the-counter medicines don’t help, reach out to your doctor. This is especially important with fall allergies — if you get a cold on top of allergies, it can lead to chronic sinus problems.

Keep in mind: Allergy medications work best when taken before allergy season starts, so you may not see a ton of relief at the start.