Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Leann Poston, M.D.
Leann Poston, M.D. earned her medical degree from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. She completed an MBA from Raj Soin College of Business, focusing on healthcare. She is a full-time medical communication writer and educator.
April 30, 2021
Sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between a cold and allergies–the symptoms are virtually identical! The main difference between allergies and cold is the cause of your symptoms (virus or allergens).
Some ways to know if you have allergies vs. cold symptoms:
To understand the differences between the cold and allergies, it’s important to understand what causes each of these conditions:
Most commonly, rhinoviruses or one of 200 common respiratory viruses cause the common cold.
As a respiratory virus, rhinoviruses are transmitted through viral particles in droplets leaving the mouth or nose of those infected with them. You become infected when you come in close contact with someone carrying a cold virus. The infected person sneezes or coughs, and the infected droplets land on your eyes, nose, or mouth.
“Less often,” notes the CDC, “a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.”
Many people are born with allergies to certain seasonal irritants, medications, animals, or foods. The type of allergies that mimic a cold is caused by seasonal allergens released into the air when certain plants are in season. If you’re consistently exposed to an animal you’re allergic to, you might also mistake your symptoms for a cold.
Many people can also develop allergies later in life, especially if they move somewhere with plants they weren’t exposed to earlier in life. It usually takes about two years to develop a sensitivity to a new allergen.
Most seasonal allergies occur in the spring due to the many plants and flowers blooming at this time and releasing pollen and other irritants into the air.
Since the causes of these two illnesses are so different, you would expect the symptoms to be different as well.
This is not the case, as the symptoms of these illnesses are so similar that it is nearly impossible to distinguish the two.
Take a look at this side-by-side comparison of common cold symptoms vs. allergies.
|Sore Throat||Sore Throat|
|Post-Nasal Drip||Post-Nasal Drip|
|Nasal Congestion||Nasal Congestion|
|Fatigue or Weakness||Fatigue or Weakness|
|Fever||Itchiness (in or around facial features)|
Aside from a few exceptions, the symptoms of the common cold and allergies match almost perfectly.
So how do you tell the difference between cold vs. allergies?
While the symptoms are very similar, there are a few key distinctions you can make to pinpoint exactly which of these two bothersome ailments you’re suffering from.
Seeing how your body reacts to different treatments will also give you a good understanding of what is causing your symptoms.
Although allergies and colds have very similar symptoms, the medications and treatments for each are very different.
After determining that you have a cold, take the following steps to support your immune system as it fights off the virus:
If you need to function while you have a cold, a doctor might recommend the use of anti-inflammatory painkillers and cold medicines to reduce the symptoms so that you can perform daily functions. These medications are usually available over-the-counter.
If you require stronger prescription medications or your cold is not letting up for some reason, you can quickly get in contact with a doctor through our sister site, PlushCare. PlushCare offers appointments with top quality, board-certified doctors who are well-versed in common cold treatments and usually available for same-day appointments.
If you have confirmed that you are suffering from allergies, try the following:
Again, suppose your allergies are incredibly bothersome and don’t improve with over-the-counter medications, and you can’t avoid the irritants that are causing your symptoms. In that case, you can speak to a doctor about stronger medications or allergy shots. Get in contact conveniently and quickly through our partner, PlushCare, and receive treatment for allergies immediately.
Tricyclic Antidepressants Antidepressants are medications commonly prescribed to treat conditions like depression and anxiety, and […]
Ringworm in Babies Noticing any kind of rash on your baby can be a cause […]
Many symptoms of COVID-19 (such as fever) mirror the symptoms of seasonal flu. This makes […]
Get same-day anxiety disorder treatment online from board-certified doctors. EverydayDr is a proud partner of […]
What Are the Different Types of Hepatitis? Hepatitis is a general term for an inflammation […]
Blood Pressure Monitor Review Maintaining healthy blood pressure is probably the best favor you could […]
Book a virtual appointment with our award-winning telehealth partner PlushCare. PlushCare successfully treats 97% of conditions on the first visit.See a Doctor Now