Healthy Living

What's the Reason for Your Sneezin'?

May. 5, 2016

If you’re sniffling and sneezing your way through spring, you may wonder if you have a cold or seasonal allergy. UR Medicine Urgent Care’s Dr. Michael Kamali offers facts to help you find the reason for your sneezin’.

man sneezing into his elbow joint

Spring can be a tricky time to determine the cause of your symptoms, since colds are common and long-awaited blooms can be bothersome. Here are some symptom-sorting facts:

It’s probably a cold if

  • your runny nose, coughing and sore throat come on quickly, followed by fatigue and achiness. Colds are caused by a virus, which you catch from other people.
  • your symptoms subside after seven to 10 days. If they linger longer, or get worse rather than better, consider calling your doctor.

It’s probably an allergy if

  • your sneezing, along with itchy eyes and nose, are more predictable and they wax and wane a bit. You don’t catch allergies from other people. They’re triggered by something in your environment, like pollen, pet dander or dust, and sometimes specific foods.
  • your symptoms last for weeks or months at a time, depending on what’s in bloom and in the air. Allergies can develop at any age so may be the culprit even if you’ve never had them before.

Weather watchers have predicted that allergy sufferers may set sneeze-count records this year. And this region was named one of the Top 10 worst areas for allergies by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in its 2016 annual ranking. The sneezes will be inevitable for some.

Whether it’s a cold or allergies, over-the-counter medications can be your first step to quell symptoms. These tend to work well for most people. When choosing medications, read labels carefully and be aware that some contain ingredients that can make you sleepy. While they may be effective, the drowsiness they bring may impact your functioning during the day. If you do a lot of driving or work with heavy equipment, be safe and choose the non-drowsy medications.

Colds and allergies usually pass with time. Persistent or worsening symptoms may be signs of a developing secondary infection such as sinusitis or bronchitis. If symptoms persist longer than 10 days, or over-the-counter medications are not helping, it’s time to see your doctor or visit an urgent care center.


Emergency medicine physician Michael Kamali, M.D.


Michael Kamali, M.D., is chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at URMC. UR Medicine Urgent Care has convenient locations in Pittsford, Penfield, Henrietta, Greece, Spencerport, Farmington and Newark.