Distinguishing Cold from Allergies: Symptoms and Steps

Wyndly Care Team
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How do you tell if I have allergies or a cold?

Telling the difference involves symptom duration and type. Allergies often last longer than a cold (weeks vs. days) and include itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion. Colds can include these, but also often have body aches, fever, and a sore throat.

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What Are Colds and Allergies?

Colds and allergies are two different health conditions that often get confused due to their similar symptoms. However, they have different causes, and understanding these differences can help you better manage your symptoms.


A cold is a viral infection that affects your upper respiratory tract. Common symptoms include coughing, sneezing, sore throat, and a runny or stuffy nose. Unlike allergies, colds may cause a fever and body aches. Colds are typically short-term, lasting up to two weeks. Knowing the difference between a cold and allergies can aid in effective treatment.


Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to substances known as allergens. These can include pollen, dust mites, mold, pet dander, and certain foods. Symptoms are similar to colds but can also include itchy, watery eyes and skin rashes. Unlike colds, allergies can occur any time throughout the year, depending on your exposure to the allergen. If you're uncertain, taking an allergy quiz can help you determine whether you're dealing with allergies or a cold.

How Can I Differentiate Between a Cold and Allergies?

Differentiating between a cold and allergies can be tricky due to their similar symptoms. However, understanding their key differences and identifying the specific symptoms can help you determine whether you're dealing with a cold or an allergy.

Key Differences

The duration of symptoms is a key difference between a cold and allergies. Colds usually last for one to two weeks, while allergies persist as long as you’re exposed to the allergen. Allergies also don't cause a fever, while a cold can. Additionally, the onset of symptoms varies. Cold symptoms develop gradually, while allergy symptoms appear immediately after exposure to allergens. Knowing the differences can help you manage your symptoms effectively.

Symptoms of a Cold vs Allergies

Cold symptoms typically include a sore throat, cough, mild fatigue, and sometimes a low-grade fever. Allergy symptoms, on the other hand, usually involve itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, and nasal congestion. An itchy throat can also be a sign of an allergy rather than a cold. If you're unsure, taking an allergy or cold quiz can help clarify whether your symptoms align more with a cold or an allergy.

Could My Recurring "Colds" Be Seasonal Allergies?

Recurring "colds" that occur around the same time every year could indeed be seasonal allergies. The similarity in symptoms often leads to a misdiagnosis, but understanding the differences between colds and allergies can help clarify the situation.

Seasonal Allergies Mistaken for Colds

Many people mistake their seasonal allergies for colds due to the overlapping symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion. However, if these symptoms recur around the same time each year and last more than a week, it's more likely to be a seasonal allergy. Allergies also cause itching of the eyes and roof of the mouth, which isn't common with colds.

Allergies Occur Year-Round

While we often associate allergies with specific seasons, it's important to remember that allergies can occur year-round. Indoor allergens such as dust mites or pet dander can cause perennial (year-round) allergic rhinitis. If your "cold" symptoms persist beyond the typical duration of a cold and don't seem linked to a particular season, this could be the cause. Taking a quick quiz can further help in identifying whether your symptoms are due to a cold or allergies.

What Should I Do If I Suspect I Have Seasonal Allergies?

If you suspect you have seasonal allergies, the first step is to ensure that your symptoms aren't due to a cold or other illness. This involves observing the frequency, duration, and timing of your symptoms, and potentially seeking a professional diagnosis.

Steps to Take If You Think You Have Allergies

It's important to monitor your symptoms, record their occurrence, and note if they coincide with exposure to certain allergens or changes in the environment. If the symptoms persist, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper assessment. They might recommend an allergy test to identify the specific allergens causing the symptoms. You can also take this online quiz to help determine if your symptoms are due to allergies or a cold.

Tips to Help Reduce Allergens in Your Home

Reducing exposure to allergens can significantly help manage allergy symptoms. This might involve regular cleaning to reduce dust, using air purifiers, and avoiding pets or certain plants if they trigger your allergies. For winter allergies, specific measures like using humidifiers and keeping the house dry can help control indoor allergens.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

If your allergies are severe or do not respond to usual treatment, your healthcare professional may recommend sublingual immunotherapy. This involves placing a tablet under your tongue that contains small amounts of the allergen, helping your body gradually build up tolerance. It's a long-term treatment that can provide lasting relief from allergies, even after discontinuing the treatment.

How Do COVID-19 Symptoms Differ from a Cold or Allergies?

COVID-19 symptoms greatly vary from those of a cold or allergies. It's crucial to understand these differences, especially during the pandemic, as it can help you seek appropriate medical attention and prevent further spread of the virus.

One key difference is that COVID-19 may cause a fever, which is uncommon with allergies. While a fever can sometimes occur with a cold, it's typically low-grade. Conversely, allergies generally do not cause fevers. For more information on this topic, you can refer to this article on can allergies cause a fever?

Another distinguishing factor is the loss of taste or smell, which is a common symptom of COVID-19 but not typically seen in colds or allergies. If you experience this symptom alongside others like fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, it's crucial to seek medical advice immediately.

COVID-19 also tends to cause more severe symptoms than a cold or allergies, including shortness of breath, body aches, and extreme fatigue. These symptoms are more similar to the flu than to a cold or allergies. If you're unsure whether your symptoms are due to COVID-19 or allergies, you might find this Allergies or COVID Quiz helpful.

Live Allergy-Free with Wyndly

If you want long-term relief from your allergies, Wyndly can help. Our doctors will help you identify your allergy triggers and create a personalized treatment plan to get you the lifelong relief you deserve. Start by taking our quick online allergy assessment today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 5 stages of a cold?

The five stages of a cold are: 1) Incubation, which occurs after initial exposure to the virus. 2) Early symptoms, like fatigue and sore throat. 3) Peak symptoms, including fever, cough, and nasal congestion. 4) Recovery, where symptoms gradually lessen. 5) Complete recovery, when all symptoms disappear.

Am I sick or is it winter allergies?

Differentiating between being sick and experiencing winter allergies can be challenging. Cold symptoms include body aches, fever, and sore throat. Winter allergies typically involve sneezing, itchy eyes, and a runny nose. A cold usually subsides within a week, while allergies persist as long as exposure continues.

How long do allergy symptoms last?

The duration of allergy symptoms can vary greatly depending on the allergen and individual sensitivity. For instance, seasonal allergies might last several weeks, while food or drug allergy reactions typically subside within a day. Continuous exposure to certain allergens can lead to chronic symptoms.

How do I know if I need allergy medicine or cold medicine?

Distinguishing between allergies and a cold relies on symptom presence and duration. Allergies usually present with itchy eyes, and symptoms persist as long as you're exposed to the allergen. Colds often come with body aches and last 7-10 days. Consult a healthcare provider for the best treatment.

Does allergy medicine help with a cold?

Allergy medicine can alleviate some cold symptoms such as runny nose and sneezing, but they do not fight the cold virus itself. They are most effective when used for their intended purpose, which is to alleviate symptoms caused by allergens, not viral infections.

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