Do I Have Allergies or a Cold? Know How to Spot the Differences

A woman sitting on the couch next to her dog, blowing her nose.

Common colds and seasonal allergies often mask themselves with similar or identical symptoms, leaving you to wonder whether you’re suffering from a cold or living with seasonal or allergen-specific allergies. Although both can hinder your daily life and routine, knowing which one you are experiencing is essential to getting the proper treatment to mitigate symptoms sooner.

Each year, over a billion people in America are estimated to come down with a cold, while seasonal allergies can affect as many as 60 million people. With such staggering numbers, it can be hard to understand exactly which one you’re experiencing, especially if you’ve lived with both before.

Let’s explore the difference between a cold and allergies. 

Cold vs. Allergies

One of the most significant differences between a cold and allergies is the symptoms you may experience. While some symptoms between the two are similar, they are not the same. First, we should define what each one is so you have a better idea of how you get them and precisely what they do to your body’s health and immune system.

What Is a Cold?

The common cold is a viral infection that affects your upper respiratory tract, specifically your nose and throat.

In contrast to the flu, a common cold can be caused by various types of viruses. It is classified as harmless for most people, and symptoms usually resolve completely within 2 weeks.

What Are Seasonal Allergies?

In general, allergies are your immune system’s overreaction to exposure to an allergen. Seasonally, this can occur from things such as pollen or ragweed. Regardless of the season, allergies can be triggered by other factors, such as exposure to mold or pet dander.

Symptoms

Although symptoms of the common cold and allergies can be similar, there are some significant differences between the two.

Read over the symptom list below and see how often you may experience them with a cold vs. allergies.

SymptomsColdAllergies
CoughUsuallySometimes
Aches and PainsSometimesNever
FatigueSometimesSometimes
Itchy, watery eyesRarelyUsually
SneezingUsuallyUsually
Runny NoseUsuallyUsually
Stuffy NoseUsuallyUsually
Sore ThroatUsuallyRarely
FeverSometimesNever

It’s probably allergies if:

  • Your eyes are itchy and watery.
  • Your symptoms seem to flare up in certain situations, such as when you spend time outdoors or near pets.
  • You’ve experienced symptoms for more than 1-2 weeks that remain at the same severity level.
  • Your mucus is thin and clear.

It may be the common cold if:

  • You have a cough, fever or body aches.
  • Symptom onset is rapid, and symptoms change every few days.
  • Your mucus changes color from clear to yellow or green.

Treatment

Symptom review is important, as it allows you to understand precisely what you may be experiencing, and in turn, get the proper treatment sooner.

Common colds and allergies are treated in different ways.

Although most people with a cold recover on their own, there are various ways to help control symptoms at home, including:

  • Proper hydration with clear liquids like water, juice or soup broth
  • Adequate rest
  • OTC anti-inflammatories, pain relievers and decongestants
  • Throat lozenges or a saltwater gargle to relieve a sore throat
  • OTC saline nasal drops or spray
  • A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier

Treatment for allergies may include:

  • OTC antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays
  • Avoiding the triggering allergen or wearing a mask when exposed.
  • Modify indoor spaces to keep allergens out
  • Wash your hair and face after exposure to an allergen

Comprehensive Care for Cold and Allergies Close to Home

Although most cases of the common cold or allergies can be treated at home, we recommend visiting our urgent care facility in Houma if:

  • Your symptoms last longer than a week.
  • OTC medication isn’t helping.
  • You have other underlying health conditions or a compromised immune system that may be affected.
  • Your symptoms are severe and life altering.
  • The medication you’re taking is causing adverse side effects.

Visit Coastal Urgent Care of Houma today to treat your cold symptoms and allergy conditions sooner. Appointments can be made ahead of time, but we welcome walk-ins seven days a week.