How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold and Allergies

As the weather gets colder and we head into the fall and winter months, many of us feel the pain of typical cold symptoms: stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, general discomfort and even a feeling of sluggishness. But the big question is: is it a cold, or could it be allergies? At Certified Allergy & Asthma Consultants, we’re here to help you determine the difference.

What is a cold?

First, let’s look at the definition of a cold. A cold is a virus and your immune system defends itself, which is what brings on the classic symptoms of a cough and/or a stuffy nose. Colds are contagious and can be picked up when someone who’s infected sneezes, coughs, or even shakes your hand. Colds generally last a couple of weeks, at the most, and then you’re relieved from symptoms.

What are allergies?

On the other hand, an allergy is an abnormal reaction to substances ordinarily harmless to most people. These substances are called “allergens” and can be found indoors, outdoors and in things we eat. For those who do have allergies, your body is mistaking harmless things like dust or pollen for germs, and attacks them.

When this “attack” happens, your body releases chemicals such as histamine, just as it does when your body is fighting a cold. That’s when you recognize symptoms such as swelling in the passageways of your nose, sneezing and coughing.

So what’s the difference?

  • Length of Symptoms
    • For a cold, you can expect symptoms to last 3-14 days. For allergies, you can experience symptoms for days or even months! As long as you’re in contact with the allergy trigger, you’ll be experiencing symptoms.
    • *Something to note: Fever is never a sign of allergies, just like itchy eyes are never a sign of a cold.
  • When it Happens
    • A cold often happens in the winter, but it’s possible to get a cold any time of the year. As for allergies, you can get these any time of the year, but you’ll typically notice some allergy triggers present seasonally.
  • When it Starts
    • If you get a cold, symptoms will take a few days to appear after the infection occurs. In contrast, symptoms from allergies can begin immediately after you’re in contact with the allergy trigger.

If you’re still unsure whether you’re suffering from a common cold or allergies, it might be in your best interest to set up an appointment with the Certified Asthma & Allergy Consultants. We’d be happy to help you determine what’s causing your discomfort and come up with a solution! Learn more about our practice on our website.