Is It a Cold or an Allergy? How to Tell the Difference

So you have a sore throat, itchy eyes, and a runny nose. Is this the beginning of a cold or could it be an allergy? Many people find it difficult to tell the difference. Yet if you know what to look for, there are some simple clues to help you know which ailment is to blame for making you feel so miserable.

Recognizing a Cold Versus an Allergy

The truth is that a cold and an allergy can look quite similar, yet the causes are completely different. This is because respiratory allergies result when your body overreacts to a trigger in your environment, while colds can be caused when you come into contact with a virus.

Therefore, it's important to pay attention to your specific symptoms.

Allergy and Cold Characteristics

Allergies tend to occur only when you're exposed to your triggers, and the symptoms usually come on suddenly. If it's something seasonal in the environment that's making you sick, you may also experience symptoms around the same time every year and the discomfort may linger indefinitely.

With a cold, on the other hand, the symptoms often start off slowly and gradually worsen before getting better. Colds are also more common in the winter than in the warmer months, and they usually last about a week or two from start to finish.

Signs of a Cold or an Allergy

Here are some other major differences that can easily help distinguish a cold from an allergy:

  • Fever: Allergies usually don't cause a fever unless the nasal or respiratory congestion turns into an infection. A cold can often be accompanied by an elevated body temperature as your body fights off germs.
  • Sore throat: If you have a very sore throat, it's probably caused by a cold. Allergies are more likely to leave your throat itchy and raw, but not in deep pain, the way it can feel with viral illnesses. If swollen glands also occur, this is another sign of a cold, not an allergy.
  • Aches and pains: While both colds and allergies can make you feel tired, colds may also bring on body aches and pains.
  • Sneezing: Allergies can cause you to sneeze multiple times in a row without a break, while people with colds usually sneeze once in a while.
  • Mucus: If you have discharge when you blow your nose and the mucus is thin and clear or white, you have allergies.  If the secretions are thicker and have a deep green or yellowish tint, you have a cold or sinus infection.

Take Care

If you think your discomfort is caused by allergies but you can't tell for sure, it's best to see your doctor. Keep in mind that if he can't narrow down exactly what's wrong, he may suggest allergy testing to find out for sure. He'll probably also recommend that you take steps to minimize the problem such as staying indoors when the pollen and mold counts are high and controlling your symptoms with medication and/or allergy shots.



Sources: Foundation

Mayo Clinic