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Winter Allergies Mistaken for Colds

'Tis the season for stuffy noses. But what feels like a cold could actually be allergies, triggered by dusty decorations, smelly centerpieces and a host of holiday season irritants - in-laws excluded.

Click here for a list of holiday allergy triggers.

Although allergies can share some symptoms with the common cold, there are clues that can help you find the source of your misery and choose the right remedy.

"A cold can be accompanied by low-grade fever, sore throat and a cough, whereas allergies usually don't have those things," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "You might have a little bit of sore throat with allergies, but it's mostly runny nose and red, itchy eyes."

The viruses that cause colds can also cause body aches and fatigue - symptoms you will not have from allergic reactions.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases gives this table as guidance:

Symptom Cold Allergy Cough Usually Sometimes General aches and pains Sometimes Never Fatigue Sometimes Sometimes Itchy eyes Rarely Usually Sneezing Usually Usually Sore throat Usually Sometimes Runny nose Usually Usually Stuffy nose Usually Usually Fever Rarely Never

If you have a cold, you might find relief in over-the-counter decongestants and pain relievers, Schaffner said. And don't forget to drink plenty of fluids and get take it easy, too.

Click here for tips on how to prevent a cold.

If you have allergies, on the other hand, you might want to try an over-the-counter antihistamine. And if you know the allergy trigger, try to steer clear.

Whatever you do, don't take antibiotics.

"Antibiotics work against bacteria, and bacteria don't cause colds or allergies," said Schaffner. "And the more we use them, the more resistant the bacteria are going to be so next time we really need antibiotics, they might not work."

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