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Is it a common cold or allergies?

Published : Friday March 30, 2012 | Posted in : General Health

If you have allergies such as hay fever you probably know that it's quite easy to mix up the one with the other, especially if your allergy symptoms tend to stick around for a couple of days. It may be even more complicated to tell the two apart if you suffer from winter allergies, thereby thinking that you have a cold, when you may actually just have to take an antihistamine to help you feel better. Luckily there are ways to tell the two apart, so that you can find the right kind of relief when you need it, as there is no point in taking medications to help ease a cold while you actually need something to help deal with a reaction by your immune system.


A cold is caused by a virus and is usually self-limiting, which means that you are likely to be ill for a set amount of days until your immune system has gotten the better for the infection. This means that if you have a cold, it will have a definite start date and end date, which can be anything between three to 14 days apart. However, allergy symptoms can last anything from a day to a couple of months and is dependent on whether you are being exposed to the particular allergen that is making your experience them.

Time of year

Colds tend to be more common during wintertime, this is not necessarily because the virus likes the cold, it's just more likely as a result of the fact that we all huddle together indoors and spend most of our time in confined spaces. This creates an ideal environment for viruses to spread, although there has been some research that would suggest that we are all a little more vulnerable to getting colds during winter because of the cold weather.

Allergies, on the other hand, can occur any time of year, anywhere, although it they can also be seasonal. This is why more people tend to experience allergy symptoms during spring, which people tend to confuse with colds that must be the result of seasonal changes.

Onset of symptoms

With a cold it can take a couple of days for the virus to cause a full infection, so you won't necessarily start feeling ill right after you've been exposed to the virus. You'll more likely to start to feel gradually more ill over the course of a couple of days.

The onset of allergy symptoms tends to be more instant and will normally start directly after exposure to a particular allergen. On that basis, symptoms will also go away if you are no longer being exposed to an allergen.


The following table provides an outline of allergy and cold symptoms and how they differ:

Symptoms Inhaled AllergyCold
CoughSometimesVery likely
Chest discomfort Unlikely Sometimes
Aches Not likely Sometimes
Fatigue Sometimes Sometimes
Fever Unlikely Sometimes
Sore throat Sometimes Very likely
Runny or blocked nose Likely and mucous is usually
clear and thin
Likely and mucous is
usually yellow and thick
Itchy or watery eyes Very likely Not common
Sneezing Very likely Very likely at the start


Although neither colds nor allergies can be cured, there are treatments that can help you feel better. Normally colds are treated with the help of decongestants to help ease discomfort until you feel better, while allergies can be managed effectively with the help of antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays or even allergy jabs. Avoiding allergens is also an effective way of allergy management, but if you are unsure of what factors could be causing your inhaled allergies it might be worth doing an inhaled allergy test.

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