Updated:

January 21, 2021

Cold vs. Allergies: How to Determine The Difference

Do you suspect that you might be sick? Have you been coughing, sneezing, and blowing your nose for a few days, but aren't certain if it's a cold or allergies? It can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and allergies. In fact, many people think they have one when they've actually got the other. But it can be crucial to figure out the difference because treatments might vary depending on what's causing your symptoms.

What are cold vs allergy symptoms? 

A fever or raised temperature is never a sign of allergies

Check your temperature. If you’re noticing your body temperature isn’t at the normal 98.6 degrees (give or take a degree), you’re probably experiencing a cold or flu. It’s a misconception that allergies will raise your temperature significantly, especially with the term “cedar fever” being used so much. The definition of a fever is 100.4. So if you have a temperature over 100, this is typically a cold/infection.

Itchy, watery, or red eyes can be a symptom of both allergies and a cold

These are one of the biggest signs of suffering from allergies.  Allergies can also cause watery eyes and itchy eyes. When you have allergies, the body produces chemicals called histamines to protect itself from something it perceives as harmful. These chemicals cause your body to produce tears which wash away the allergens before they can irritate your eyes or make you sneeze. A cold can cause watery, red, and irritated eyes, but if they’re very itchy, this is likely allergies.

Symptoms lasting longer than 10 days

Rarely will a cold last longer than 10 days. Cold symptoms can linger but should be improving significantly. Cold symptoms will usually come fast and leave fast. Allergies will affect you as long as the season (pollen) lasts. If you’re also feeling sick at certain times of the year, you’re probably being affected by allergies.

Aches and pains are not caused by allergies

Allergies do not cause as severe body aches and pains as a cold can. If you’re feeling discomfort in your muscles and joints, then you’re most likely suffering from a cold. Allergies can definitely make you feel tired and mildly achy, but not usually as severe as colds can.

Sore throat can be a symptom of both allergies and a cold

Having a sore throat can be caused by allergies or a cold. If you have an allergy, your body may produce excess mucus that gets trapped in your throat and makes it sore. If you're sick with a cold, you also get an excessive post-nasal drip, which can cause your throat to feel rough and uncomfortable.

Still deciding what you're suffering from? Take our cold or allergies quiz to narrow it down! If you can’t determine what you’re suffering from, visit a local allergy expert or your primary care physician, and they can help you determine what’s affecting you and how you can treat it.

I tend to get colds around the spring and fall time for long periods of time. Are these "colds" actually seasonal allergies? How do I treat it?

Use a decongestant to ease the symptoms of allergies. This medicine may be used to relieve both nasal and sinus symptoms. It can help clear your cough and allow you to breathe more easily. 

Antihistamines can be used to treat allergies short term. If you are noticing that your allergies are continually getting worse with no end in sight, think about long-term relief.

Allergy drops are the easiest and most effective way to get rid of allergies for good. They can be taken anywhere and on your own schedule. They can be used to treat seasonal and environmental allergies, like mold, pollen, and dust. 

Allergy shots are also effective in treating allergies long-term. They are administered weekly in the clinic. Allergy shots are also used to treat environmental allergies. They're a great option for many people who enjoy having a routine. 

ExACT Immunoplasty is an innovative new treatment that helps you find complete allergy relief in just 3 appointments! ExACT is an 8-week treatment that is clinically proven to be as effective as three years of allergy shots! Learn more and find out if you're a candidate for ExACT! 

Whether it's a cold or allergies, don't let it ruin your wellbeing. While you might not be able to fully prevent a cold, allergies can not only be prevented but treated as well. Take control of your allergies, don’t allow yourself to suffer anymore, make an appointment today!

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About The Author:

Haley Overstreet, MD

Dr. Overstreet completed her Family Medicine Residency at The University of Alabama Family Medicine Residency in Tuscaloosa. After spending 3 years practicing Family Medicine in Austin, she's happy to be working in a more specialized practice focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of both seasonal and food allergies.