Maciej Laska for Getty Images
Maciej Laska for Getty Images

That runny nose, those itchy eyes and your scratchy throat—is it a summer cold, or do you have allergies? You don’t want to be spreading a cold to every client who sits in your chair, so you may be hoping it’s an allergy. But in the long run, of course, you’re better off having a cold than dealing with allergic sensitivities all summer long. How can you tell the difference?

 

According to City of Hope, the two conditions can feel similar, but allergy symptoms usually last longer and tend to worsen when you’re outside or you come in contact with whatever allergen is triggering your discomfort. Coughing, swollen or watery eyes and a runny or clogged nose also can indicate an allergy, but those can be cold symptoms as well. Typically, the mucus from a cold is thicker and greener than the clear liquid associated with allergies. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) additionally lists these indications of an allergy:

  • “Allergic shiner”—dark circles under the eyes.
  • “Allergic face”—a tired, droopy facial appearance due to swollen adenoids.
  • Nasal crease—a pronounced line across the bridge of the nose developed from repeated rubbing upward to relieve nasal congestion and itching.
  • Mouth breathing—an inability to breathe through the nose because of the nasal congestion.

Summertime allergies are most commonly caused by pollen, mold and insect stings, but you may not realize that nuts and fresh produce—celery, apples, melons—also can activate symptoms, according to ACAAI. This is known as “food pollen syndrome.” 

 

If you suspect allergies, City of Hope suggests taking a few steps to diminish your symptoms:

  • Shut your home’s windows.
  • Use an air conditioner to keep the air inside clean or a humidifier to keep air moist, but make sure the humidifier stays clean to avoid spreading bacteria or mold in the air.
  • Check your local news for smog or pollen counts and, if possible, avoid going outside on the worst days.
  • Keep your pets clean and out of your bedroom, since they can aggravate your allergies.

It’s tempting to relieve the itchiness and sneezing with over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal sprays, but if symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you should seek an allergist’s opinion. Testing will lead to proper diagnosis and treatment.