It’s that time of year again - cold and flu season. Most adults get about two to four colds per year. Unfortunately, as people start to move inside to escape the cold, more people are also exposed to various indoor allergens. Although you may have never suffered from allergies before, adult onset allergies are fairly common and can be triggered without warning. If you find yourself getting sick this winter, it is important to determine whether you have a cold or an allergy. This will help you treat your symptoms correctly. So how do you tell the difference between the common cold and an indoor allergy? The common cold The common cold is described as a mild infection that affects the head and chest area. According to Webmd, there are more than 200 viruses that cause the common cold. When one of these viruses enter the body, your immune system attacks it in order to keep your body strong. The most prevalent symptoms of the common cold include a cough, sore throat, and a runny nose. The virus can stay in your system anywhere from 3 to 14 days. During the onset of your symptoms, you are contagious, so it’s important to stay away from other people and cover you mouth when coughing. Indoor allergies Indoor allergies are caused by an overactive immune system when (for an unknown reason) your body mistakes harmless particles, such as dust mites or pet dander, for threats and attacks them. When this happens, your body produces histamine and creates the symptoms familiar with allergies. The most prevalent symptoms of indoor allergies include itchy/watery eyes and a runny/stuffy nose. Unlike the common cold, where you start to feel better once the virus leaves the body, you could be suffering from allergy symptoms for months depending how long you are exposed to the triggers. Allergy symptoms normally occur right after initial contact with an allergen, whereas the common cold can remain dormant in your body for up to three days. Also different from the common cold, indoor allergies aren’t contagious. As long as you feel up to it, you are free to be near other people without making them sick. You can see a chart explaining more key differences between colds and allergies here. Treatment and prevention Colds Because the common cold is caused by a virus, antibiotic treatment doesn’t normally affect the duration. The best way to treat a cold is by using over-the-counter medicines to treat your symptoms and getting plenty of bed rest. It is also important to stay properly hydrated by using a humidifier or drinking hot tea. To prevent catching the cold, always wash your hands properly and stay away from others who may be sick. Allergies If you find you are suffering from indoor allergies, you should talk with your doctor about prescribing allergy medication with antihistamines. Antihistamines block the histamines your body uses to fight off what it thinks is an intruder to your body. The best way to treat your allergies, however, is to limit your contact with your body’s triggers. Cleaning the house and dusting regularly limit the house’s amount of allergens. You could also try using hypoallergenic bedding in you room. Specific mattress covers for dust mites also help limit your body’s exposure. The common cold and indoor allergies can be very similar. Although both ailments present almost the same symptoms, they are caused by two different things and must be treated differently. By being able to tell the difference between the two, it makes it much easier to treat and prevent your own symptoms during the cold weather months.