Colds vs. Allergies

In the world of dis­eases, colds and aller­gies are close enough to be broth­ers. Both present sim­i­lar symp­toms, and it can be dif­fi­cult to dis­cern one from the other. If you know what to look for, how­ever, there are some sign­posts that can clue in to whether you’re suf­fer­ing from a cold or allergies.


The com­mon cold is an infec­tion caused by a virus. Com­mon symp­toms include cough, sneez­ing, sore throat, and nasal con­ges­tion. Occa­sion­ally, fatigue and gen­eral aches and pains may accom­pany these symp­toms. The typ­i­cal cold lasts a dura­tion of 7–10 days, after which symp­toms begin to clear up. The cold is com­monly treated with pain reliev­ers, over the counter decon­ges­tion reme­dies, and rest.


Unlike colds, aller­gies symp­toms occur when the immune sys­tem reacts to expo­sure to aller­gens, sub­stances that induce aller­gies. Symp­toms of aller­gies can be sim­i­lar to cold symp­toms. Sneez­ing, runny nose, and cough are all com­mon allergy symp­toms. Aller­gies are usu­ally treated with pre­scrip­tion or over the counter anti­his­t­a­mines, nasal steroid spray, decon­ges­tants, and by avoid­ing con­tact with allergens.

The Dif­fer­ence

There are sev­eral ways to dis­tin­guish a cold for allergy symp­toms. First, the onset of a cold is some­what grad­ual. Aller­gies can flare up in an instant when exposed to aller­gens. Colds have a finite dura­tion, usu­ally a week or so. Allergy symp­toms can last for weeks if not treated or if expo­sure to an aller­gen is con­stant. While both cold and aller­gies man­i­fest with runny noses and con­ges­tion, nasal dis­charge is yel­low or green dur­ing a cold, while it’s clear dur­ing an allergy flare up. Itchy throat and eyes are com­mon with aller­gies, while they rarely hap­pen dur­ing cold.

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