Here’s How To Tell The Difference Between a Cold and Allergies

April 2 2019

Sniffling. Sneezing. Headache. A scratchy throat. Yup, sounds like you definitely have a cold. Or wait – is it your allergies acting up?

This time of year, the source of your symptoms can be tough to suss out. “It’s not always easy to tell the difference between allergies and a cold,” notes family medicine specialist Dr David Cutler. And if you don’t know what’s causing your discomfort, it can be tough to find relief.

Though they may look similar on the surface, there are some things that set colds and allergies apart. Here’s how to tell which is which – plus, how to feel better fast.

How to tell if you have a cold or allergies

Colds and seasonal allergies can feel pretty similar. And indeed, they do have some things in common. Both colds and allergies are caused by an invasion of what the body perceives as a potentially harmful substance, explains allergist Dr Joseph Dizon. With colds, that substance is a virus. But with allergies, the substance is an allergen like pollen, mould or dust.

The onslaught of symptoms we experience from a cold or allergies is the immune system’s way of trying to fight off those invaders. And in both cases, it’s common to have congestion, sneezing, a runny nose, and a scratchy or sore throat, as well as headaches or sinus pain.

So how can you tell what’s really ailing you? It might help to ask yourself the following questions:

– How did your symptoms start? Colds tend to come on slowly, usually over a couple days. Allergies kick into gear as soon as you’ve been exposed to an allergen.

– Are you itchy? Itching – especially in your nose, eyes, or throat – is often a classic sign of allergies, Dr Dizon says. But it’s pretty uncommon for colds.

– Do you have a fever or body aches? Colds can cause both, but allergies don’t.

– How long have your symptoms gone on for? Colds tend to clear up in a week or two. But if your symptoms stick around for weeks or even months, allergies are probably the culprit, Dr Cutler says.

Can allergies ever turn into a cold?

Seasonal allergies are super annoying, but there’s at least some good news: Allergies and colds have totally different causes, so one can’t morph into the other.

That said, you could still end up with both at the same time since cold and flu season is still going strong when allergies hit in the spring and fall. “Similar to allergies, there may be a seasonal pattern to colds,” Dr Dizon says.

Bottom line: A common cold and allergies can have similar symptoms, but they have different causes and treatments. If home remedies don’t help you find relief, talk to your doctor to ensure a proper diagnosis.


Sourced from Prevention.

For medical consultations, call to schedule an appointment with us at 03 5229 5192 (Myers Street Family Medical Practice), 03 5241 6129 (The Cottage Medical Centre), 03 5264 8838 (Torquay Medical Health & Wellness Clinic). For Corporate Care Program, visit Workplace Health & Safety Victoria