Is It Allergies or Something Worse?

After the holiday hustle has passed and we’ve celebrated the new year, we get to head right into allergy season and cold season—at the same time! While your eyes are watering, your nose is running, and you’re trying to manage fatigue, you may be wondering what your symptoms are telling you. Is it allergies? Is it the common cold? Is it something worse like COVID-19? It can be difficult to determine what’s what when the symptoms of each of these conditions can look and feel very similar. It’s time to get to the bottom of it because once you can identify what you are up against, you can schedule an appointment with a specialist and be on your way back to feeling your best.

So, what could be causing those pesky symptoms? First, let’s tackle allergies—what causes them, what are the most common allergy symptoms, and what you can do to find relief.

What Are Allergies?

Allergies occur when the immune system senses a foreign substance it doesn’t like such as pollen, pet dander, mold, or a certain type of food that doesn’t normally cause a reaction in most people. The immune system then produces antibodies that identify the allergen as harmful even when it isn’t and causes uncomfortable symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and watery eyes. If you are allergic to a certain food, allergic reactions can also cause stomach upset and digestive issues. Unfortunately, it is still unclear why some people develop allergies and others do not, but some studies show that genetics and environment are both factors.

How To Tell If You Have Allergies

The best way to confirm if you have allergies is to see a specialist like Dr. Buddiga for skin testing. The second-best way is to keep track of how you feel throughout the day, when and where your symptoms appear to flare up, and what you are doing at the time.

Some of the most common allergy symptoms are:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Itchy, watery, or swollen eyes
  • Hives
  • Digestive upset

The first helpful remedy to help keep symptoms at bay is to take an oral antihistamine. Antihistamines help block the effects of a substance called histamine which is released in the body in response to something your immune system deems harmful.

Other potential remedies to relieve symptoms are nasal sprays and decongestants which can help open up nasal passageways for easier breathing.

Now, if you had read that list of symptoms without knowing it was related to allergies, you may think the culprit was a cold, flu, or even COVID-19. Many symptoms overlap! Let’s break down more common conditions that surface this time of year as well as their symptoms.

Common Cold Season Conditions and Their Symptoms

Common Cold

The good old common cold. We’ve all contracted this at some point, haven’t we? The common cold is a viral infection in the nose and throat that is typically very harmless and is caused by several different types of viruses. Children usually develop more colds than adults throughout the year and we can recover from them in about 7-10 days.

Cold symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough and congestion
  • Headaches
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy

Common colds usually run their course without needing any serious medical intervention, but if yours seems to be sticking around longer than you like, over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, nasal sprays, or cough syrups can help relieve symptoms.

The Flu

Just like colds, the flu (influenza) is a respiratory illness that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. However, colds can be caused by several different types of viruses while the flu is caused by influenza viruses only. Symptoms of the flu are often much more intense and come on more abruptly than the common cold. For those in a more compromised health state, the flu can result in serious health problems, infections, and even hospitalizations.

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion

Remedies for the flu are very similar to the common cold, but it may take you longer to recover due to the nature of the illness. Be sure you are getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated throughout the day with water or juice, and using over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to help keep fevers and pain under control.


If you’ve dodged COVID-19 for a few years but are beginning to feel suspicious symptoms, there is a chance it has finally caught up to you. While transmission has slowed significantly, cases are still popping up, so it is important to know what to look for. COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and most commonly affects the respiratory system. As we know, everyone experiences COVID-19 differently; those who are generally in good health may experience milder symptoms than those who have underlying health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer. It is also important to note that symptoms may change with new COVID-19 variants and will depend on your vaccination status.

COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea

There is no cure for COVID-19 at this time, but the best things you can do to help you find some relief from your symptoms is to get as much rest as possible, stay hydrated, and take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed. If your symptoms get worse or you are experiencing trouble breathing, call 911 or go to the hospital immediately.


While asthma isn’t a condition you catch, its symptoms may present in a similar way to common colds. Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways in the lungs. When those airways become inflamed and narrowed, it makes it more difficult for air to flow out of your airways when you breathe. About 1 in 13 people in the US have asthma and it affects those of all ages, but most commonly begins during childhood. Asthma symptoms are typically triggered by factors such as pollen, exercise, viral infections, and even cooler air. As symptoms get worse, those asthma triggers can result in an asthma attack which can be life-threatening.

Asthma symptoms include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

Many other conditions can cause these same symptoms, but with asthma, these symptoms follow a pattern of coming and going over time (never resolving after a week or so), getting worse with viral infections, being triggered by everyday activities like exercise, and can be worse at night or in the morning.

Since asthma is a lifelong condition, those who are affected cannot cure their symptoms but simply manage them with medications and by avoiding known triggers.

See An Allergist

If you are concerned about your symptoms this time of year or are wondering whether you have allergies or something more serious, it is best to schedule an appointment with an allergist like Dr. Buddiga. He has helped hundreds of patients by getting to the bottom of their symptoms, conducting comprehensive testing, and creating treatment plans catered to their specific needs. If you are suffering, don’t wait! There is relief in sight – Dr. Buddiga is here to help.

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