Cold or Allergies? How to Tell the Difference

Updated
Updated

Most people know the basic symptoms of a cold: a stuffy nose, sore throat, and maybe even a headache. But how do you know it’s your allergies acting up? How can you tell the difference between a cold and allergies? It can be tough, especially since colds and allergies share common symptoms.

To start, it's important to understand the differences.

Allergies vs Colds: 3 Main Differences

Making an accurate diagnosis between a cold and allergies can be tricky, even for professionals. But there are three telltale signs that it’s allergy symptoms, not cold symptoms.

  1. Your symptoms are chronic. Allergies are more likely to flare up during specific times of the year and last for months. Allergens can also cause symptoms, which is why allergy testing is vital, as it lets you know your triggers. Allergy symptoms may be severe enough that they never seem to go away or they could be seasonal, only appearing in the winter or summer. A cold, on the other hand, usually lasts a few days to a week.
  2. Your symptoms are intermittent. Allergy symptoms typically worsen in places where allergens are prevalent. For example, if you're allergic to ragweed, the most severe symptoms appear in the fall because ragweed pollen is carried by the wind, increasing your exposure. Cold symptoms tend to stay consistent the entire time you're sick. When you get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and take medicine, the effects of a cold may temporarily subside. Nonetheless, cold symptoms generally stick around until you start healing.
  3. Your symptoms are traceable. Following an allergy test, you should notice a link between certain circumstances and a worsening of your allergy symptoms. For example, mold may be responsible for your itchy eyes and running nose in the basement since it's a dark and damp environment where mold can thrive. A cold, however, is transmitted via viral transmission from person to person, implying that particular situations will not trigger symptoms. Instead, you acquire a cold from another sick individual and then start showing symptoms a day or two later. Virus transmission is higher in the winter and in colder climates, which is why it's important to take steps to protect yourself and minimize exposure to sick individuals.

Cold vs Allergies: Common Symptoms

Now that you know the three main differences, it's time to look at the commonalities between the common cold and allergies. These symptoms include:

These symptoms all link to colds and allergies, but they can present differently depending on their cause. For example, a persistent cough is not usually an indication of allergies. While allergies can cause you to wheeze, the condition is typically more intermittent than constant. If you're coughing a lot, your respiratory system may have an infection. Get some rest, drink lots of water, and take decongestants while your immune system fights to restore your health.

Here's one thing you can do at home to tell the difference between a cold and allergies:

  • Check your mucus. While it may be unpleasant to blow your nose or cough into a tissue and then examine what came out, it can give you some insight. Allergies typically produce clear mucus, as allergens irritate the nose and throat without causing infection. A cold causes mucus to thicken and turn yellow or green as your body fights the infection. If the mucus is clear, an over-the-counter nasal spray or nasal steroid spray can help.

If you're still unsure, and if symptoms get worse or don't improve in five days, see your healthcare provider for further testing.

Are There Cold Symptoms that Are Never Caused by Allergies?

Yes! Check your temperature. While some colds never cause a fever, if you do have a high temperature, it’s definitely not allergies. Seasonal allergies don’t cause fevers because your body isn't fighting an actual infection, only over-reacting to a benign intruder.

If you have a fever, you're dealing with a virus or infection rather than an allergy, so antihistamine medications don't help. Cold medicines and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are your best bet. Also, it's always a good idea to rest and avoid contact with others so you don't spread the virus. Fevers almost always indicate that you're contagious. When you're sick, don't go out and put others at risk. Stay home until symptoms are gone.

If your temperature is higher than 101 degrees and doesn't go down, check with your doctor as soon as possible. A fever of 104 degrees or higher requires immediate emergency medical attention.

COVID vs Allergies: Which Is It?

The worldwide pandemic has been difficult for everyone, and allergy sufferers have faced their own set of problems. Many allergy sufferers have had to conceal their pollen-induced sneezes and coughs so as not to frighten others as a result of COVID-19. Though it's likely you've been dealing with allergy symptoms for years, COVID has created a new level of uncertainty. It's easy to worry whether your runny nose and cough are your normal seasonal allergies or something more serious.

While COVID and seasonal allergies have some symptoms in common, there are several ways to tell them apart.

  • Get tested. The best way to know if you've been exposed to COVID-19 is to get tested. Many locations provide testing, and results are available in as little as a few hours.
  • Check your temperature. A fever isn't an allergy symptom, and it isn't always a cold symptom. A variety of viruses and illnesses can cause fevers, especially COVID.
  • Don't ignore aches and pains. COVID symptoms include headaches, body aches (similar to the flu), tiredness, and loss of taste and smell. These symptoms are not generally caused by allergies.

For more detailed information about COVID-19, please visit the Center for Disease Control (the CDC) online.

Relief from Allergies and Troublesome Symptoms

Wouldn't it be great to experience a life free of allergy symptoms? If you never had to debate if you have a cold or allergies? With Wyndly, you can! We offer personalized treatment plans that help allergy sufferers find the long-term relief they want and need.

If you're interested in exploring your options, schedule an online allergy consultation with one of our specialists today! We’ll even send you a free at-home allergy test kit!

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