Healthy Living

Do You Have Allergies or a Cold?

Jan 7 2020

Runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, congestion, and sneezing are all symptoms of a common cold. However, they are also symptoms of seasonal allergies. Because the two have very similar symptoms, they are easy to get mixed up.

Adults can expect to have two to three colds a year. Also, there are around 50 million people in the country who have allergies. Knowing which you may be experiencing can help you get the right treatment and feel better faster.

When is it allergies?

Allergies are your body’s reaction to things like pollen, dust, or pet dander. Your symptoms are likely caused by allergies if:

  • Your mucus is clear or watery.
  • Your eyes are itchy or watery.
  • Your symptoms stay the same.
  • You’ve had symptoms for more than a week. (Colds typically clear up in 7-10 days, but allergies can last weeks or even longer.
  • Your symptoms only show up in certain situations. For example, during spring or fall, or when you’re around cats or dogs.

Usually with allergies, you’ll experience itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose and/or stuffy nose. Sometimes you may have a cough or experience weakness or fatigue. Most of the time, the symptoms will come on suddenly and can last for weeks.

Symptoms you will rarely or even never experience with allergies include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • General aches and pains

When is it a cold?

There are more than 200 cold viruses out there that can cause you to feel under the weather. If you have a cold, you may:

  • Have a cough, fever, headache or mild body aches.
  • Your symptoms might change every few days. For example, you may start with a stuffy nose, and develop a sore throat a few days later.
  • Your mucus is yellow, green or thick. This can be caused by your immune cells fighting against the virus.

Common symptoms may include cough, general aches and pains, fatigue and weakness, itchy eyes, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, stuffy nose, and fever.

When a cold is the cause, symptoms tend to come on gradually over a day or two. The cold virus is transmitted through droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing. Therefore, be sure to wash your hands often and sanitize hard surfaces.

When should I call my doctor?

If you’re having trouble breathing, have a skin rash, or have swelling in your mouth or throat, see your doctor immediately. This could be signs of an allergic reaction or something more severe.

A fever f over 101 degrees Fahrenheit can be a symptom of the flu or other more serious infection. You may need prescription medication to help you get better. If you’re experiencing a high fever, call your doctor.

If your symptoms get worse over time or last more than 10 days, you should call your doctor. In most cases, your cold will get better on its own. However, if it lasts longer than 10 days, it may be something more serious.


There is no cure for allergies or colds. However, there are steps you can take to help ease symptoms and feel better.

For seasonal allergies, you can try:

  • Over the counter or prescription antihistamines
  • Nasal steroid sprays
  • Decongestants
  • Allergy shots
  • Avoiding exposure to allergens when possible

Doctors can help you identify allergy triggers through different tests, including skin tests. Once an allergen is identified, you and your doctor can develop a prevention and treatment plan.

If you’re suffering from a cold, you may want to consider:

  • Rest
  • Fluids
  • Pain relievers
  • Over-the-counter cold remedies, such as decongestants

Mercy Health is here to help you feel your best. Find a Mercy Health primary care doctor near you.

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