Woman in field of yellow flowers sneezing

Cold or Allergies? How to Tell the Difference

This time of year, it can be tough to tell if you’re coming down with a cold or if your sinuses are just acting up because of changes in the weather. Is it a cold or is it allergies?

It can be difficult diagnose between the two because of their similar symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing and congestion. However, there are telltale signs that can help you figure out which one is making you miserable, and help you do something about it.

Know what triggers your allergies.

What is a cold?

A cold is caused by a virus and, despite its name, you can catch a cold any time of the year. Colds may be passed by touching as well as through the air from coughing and sneezing. There are hundreds of different cold viruses out there. The symptoms and severity may vary, but colds generally share some of the same set of common symptoms.

Most cold symptoms include:

  • Coughing, sore throat, runny and/or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing and itchy eyes
  • Severe colds can cause fevers and body aches
  • Recovery is usually quick, about 7 to 10 days

What are allergies?

Allergies occur when your immune system has an adverse reaction to certain substances and releases chemicals called histamines. While intended to fight off intruders to your immune system, histamines are actually what causes allergy symptoms. Seasonal allergies are most common, but you might also be allergic to certain substances that can affect you all year round, such as pollen, animal dander, mold, or foods such as nuts, milk and eggs.

Fevers and body aches are not signs of an allergy. Allergy symptoms may include:

  • Sneezing, sore throat, coughing, runny nose and congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Rashes and itchy eyes

Because colds and allergies share some similar symptoms, including congestion, medications like eye drops, nasal sprays and antihistamines can help minimize them. If allergies are to blame, the best thing you can do is to avoid your known triggers as well as irritants, such as smoke and pollution.


Have questions about your health? Find a physician and request an appointment.