Cold vs. allergy: Which is it?
Sneezing. Runny nose. Coughing. These symptoms all fit the bill for both allergies and colds. Take this quiz to learn the subtle differences.
Allergy, Cold or Either: I think what I have is caused by a virus.
Cold. While allergies are caused by exposure to allergens, colds are viral infections you pick up from infected people or contaminated objects. Either way, over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines can help relieve your symptoms.
Allergy, Cold or Either: It's summertime and I have a runny nose. What do I have?
Either. You might be inclined to believe that you have a summer cold. But that might not be the case. Allergy-causing mold and grass pollens are active during the summer. So your symptoms could be caused by a cold or an allergy, and the answer will depend on other factors. But if your eyes are itchy, it's probably allergies.
Allergy, Cold or Either: I'm coughing and sneezing with yellow mucus coming from my nose.
Either. Clear drainage is normal for both allergies and colds. With allergies, the mucus is thin and watery, but a cold will develop thicker mucus and usually turn yellow. However, yellow mucus can happen with allergies too.
Allergy, Cold or Either: I have a fever.
Cold. Allergies do not cause a fever—infections do. But a mild fever is a rare symptom of a cold, so you might have the flu or another infection, especially if the fever is high.
Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms have gotten worse over time.
Cold. If your symptoms evolve—your runny nose turns into a sore throat and coughing, for example—you probably have a cold. Usually, it will only last 7 to 10 days and go away on its own.
Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms have lasted more than two weeks.
Either. While colds can feel like they linger for a while, they should go away after a week or so. Allergies will stick around as long as the allergen is present. But it's also possible you have developed a sinus infection, whether it started as a cold or allergies.
Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms began suddenly.
Allergy. Allergies kick in immediately when you're exposed to an allergen. Symptoms of a cold come on more gradually, sometimes over a few days.
Environmental factors can be a huge trigger for allergies. Keeping tabs on pollen counts in your area can help you plan ahead (and suffer less).
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. "Colds, Allergies and Sinusitis—How to Tell the Difference." http://www.aaaai.org/Aaaai/media/MediaLibrary/PDF%20Documents/Libraries/EL-allergies-colds-allergies-sinusitis-patient.pdf.
- American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. "Allergies." https://acaai.org/allergies.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "Allergy Facts." https://aafa.org/allergies/allergy-facts.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "Is It Allergies or a Cold?" https://community.aafa.org/blog/sneezing-and-sniffling-how-to-tell-if-its-allergies-or-a-cold-and-warning-for-people-with-asthma.
- FamilyDoctor.org. "Allergic Rhinitis (Allergies)." https://familydoctor.org/condition/allergic-rhinitis/?adfree=true.
- MedlinePlus. "Sinusitis." https://medlineplus.gov/sinusitis.html.
- Merck Manual—Consumer Version. "Seasonal Allergies." https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/immune-disorders/allergic-reactions-and-other-hypersensitivity-disorders/seasonal-allergies.
- Merck Manual—Consumer Version. "Common Cold." https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/respiratory-viruses/common-cold.
- NIH News in Health. "Cold, Flu, or Allergy?" https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2014/10/cold-flu-or-allergy.