How to tell if a sore throat is from an allergy or a cold

Pain, irritation, and swelling are common symptoms of a sore throat. Allergies, common colds, flu, and other respiratory infections can cause a sore throat. Knowing what has caused a sore throat allows a person to treat it more effectively. Sore throats due to allergies, colds, and the flu generally respond well to home treatment. However, when someone has mononucleosis, tonsillitis, or a more serious case of the flu, a sore throat may require medication.

In this article, we describe how to tell if a sore throat is due to an allergy (which is not an infection) or a viral upper respiratory infection, such as the common cold or the flu. We also cover the treatment and prevention of allergy symptoms and when to see a doctor.

Cold allergy

Many conditions can cause a sore throat, such as the common colds, flu, and allergies, such as hay fever. Taking note of other symptoms that appear along with a sore throat can help people get a better idea of ​​the underlying cause.

Common symptoms for both colds and allergies include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Fatigue.
  • Cough and sneeze

Symptoms of colds, flu and infections:

  • Fevers can occur with colds and flu, but not with allergies.
  • Muscle and body aches do not usually occur with allergies.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck region usually indicate an infection, not an allergy.
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Symptoms of allergies include:

Itchy, watery eyes are common symptoms of allergies, but not colds or flu. An important clue in determining whether the cause is a cold, flu, or allergy is how long the sore throat lasts. Colds and flu usually don’t last longer than 2 weeks.

However, allergies can last as long as a person remains exposed to the allergen. For people with hay fever, allergy symptoms can last for about 6 weeks during pollen seasons.

Some people with hay fever can develop oral allergy syndrome after eating certain foods. Raw fruits, vegetables, and some tree nuts contain pollen-like proteins that trigger hay fever symptoms.

Oral allergy syndrome can cause:

  • An itch in the mouth.
  • A sore throat
  • Redness and swelling of the lips and mouth.
  • General symptoms of fever.

People who experience a sore throat or other symptoms after eating raw fruits or vegetables should speak to a doctor or an allergist. Allergies are very common. According to the College of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology, millions of people around the world have some type of allergy.

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Research reveals that 15% of people have received a diagnosis of allergic rhinitis from their doctor and up to 30% of the population have self-reported nasal allergy symptoms.

Allergy treatment

Treatment of allergies depends on the severity of the symptoms. People with milder symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroid sprays.

A doctor can provide medication prescriptions for people with more severe allergy symptoms. Sometimes doctors may also recommend immunotherapy, such as allergy shots.

Immunotherapy involves a series of treatments in which an allergist gradually exposes a person to increasing amounts of an allergen. Over time, this desensitizes the person and reduces their allergic response to the allergen.

Many people use alternative therapies to treat allergies. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the following treatments can help relieve allergy symptoms:

  • Saline nasal irrigation.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Probiotics
  • Some herbal remedies.

Home remedies can also help ease the discomfort of sore throats.

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Home remedies include:

  • Suck on ice chips or frozen fruit juices.
  • Drink hot tea with honey.
  • Gargle with salt water several times a day.
  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers.

Allergy prevention tips

Avoiding allergens is the best way to prevent upper respiratory allergy symptoms, such as a sore throat. However, total avoidance is not always possible or practical.

Common allergens include:

  • Grass and tree pollen.
  • Pet or animal dander.
  • Mold spores.
  • Dust mites

Some general tips for reducing exposure to allergens include:

  • Keep windows closed during pollen seasons.
  • Stay indoors if possible when the pollen count is high.
  • Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes from pollen.
  • Shower and change clothes after spending time outdoors during pollen seasons.
  • Avoid foods that trigger symptoms.
  • The use of dust-proof covers on furniture and bedding to reduce exposure to dust mites.
  • Use a dehumidifier and clean bathrooms and kitchens frequently to reduce exposure to mold.
  • Wash your hands immediately after petting cats and dogs to reduce exposure to pet dander.
  • Wash pets frequently to reduce dander buildup.
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