Cold or Allergies: How to Tell the Difference

Itís springtime. Pollen is in the air. Lots of it. Your car is coated in it, and you canít sit on your patio furniture without having a backside covered in it.

Many people deal with seasonal allergies every year. They know the drill. On the other hand, you may have never had outdoor allergies in your life. But donít be fooled, adults are newly diagnosed with allergies on a regular basis.

“Maybe itís just a cold,” you say to yourself. It seems a lot like a cold. The symptoms are awfully similar. And June from work has it, too. So how do you tell the difference between†a cold and allergies?

It's difficult to tell whether your runny, congested nose is allergies or cold. You treat them the same but one is contagious and the other isn't. Here's how you tell the difference...

You Have Allergies If Youíre Experiencing…

Clear, Watery Drainage.

In response to allergens, your mucous membranes become more productive. Allergens provoke your body to create mucus with histamine which leads to swelling of the nasal passage and production of clear, watery drainage.

This does not include gunky, green, globs. Yellow, red, or brown doesnít count either.

Symptoms†Past 7-10 Days

In the beginning, your symptoms will be really bad, but your symptoms will stay the same far beyond the normal window of a cold. In fact, they stay the whole entire time the allergen is in the air. For instance, ragweed or grass pollen can linger for six weeks.

Itchy, Watery Eyes

This may be the most uncomfortable allergy symptom for some folks. Your eyes release histamine when they come into contact with pollen floating in the air. Then they turn red and beg to be itched. Your lacrimal glands produce fluid to attempt to rid your eyes of the allergen.


Itís common to sneeze with colds, too, but youíll notice that sneezing with allergies accompanies you going outside, and not necessarily inside.

If thereís an open window or door, then youíre likely to sneeze inside. But most of the time, your sneezing occurs when youíre in close contact with the allergens.

Symptoms that Worsen in Certain Situations

Like†with sneezing, you know itís allergies if your symptoms get worse depending on where you are. Itís not just sneezing, but all of these symptoms. If youíre out for a picnic and you notice your symptoms flaring up, then itís allergies.

You Have a Cold If Youíre Experiencing…


Although fever isnít super common for most people, some individuals do get a mild increase in temperature. You know if youíre having a fever, then itís definitely not allergies.

Body Aches

Again, not always common with colds but because itís a viral infection, your body may experience aches and discomfort as it tries to heal. Mild aches is not a thing for allergies.

Thick or Discolored Discharge

Whatís tricky here is that nasal discharge with a cold can be watery in the beginning, like allergies. But as the days progress, your discharge will become thick and, most of the time, green. Thatís when a neti pot comes in handy!

Symptom Changes or Symptom Resolution

The average cold lasts seven to 10 days with varying degrees of symptoms. Usually your symptoms start with a sore throat that resolves and leads into congestion and nasal discharge.

The absolute maximum length of time for a cold is two weeks. Anything more than that is either allergies or more serious infection that needs to be addressed by your physician.

Final Thoughts

Despite the differences, youíll treat†a cold or allergies†exactly the same way. Lay on the nasal decongestants, steroids, and antihistamines, or whatever natural remedies you favor.

If you have a cold, youíll want to rest and heal. With allergies, youíll simply need to be patient and avoid the allergen, which can be a bummer when itís so beautiful outside this time of year.

Related at Care2

Images via Thinkstock


Jack Y
Jack Yabout a month ago


Jack Y
Jack Yabout a month ago


John J
John Jabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

John J
John Jabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

Marie W
Marie W9 months ago

Thank you

Marge F
Marge Fabout a year ago

Thank you for posting this informative article.

Carol S
Carol Sabout a year ago

Thanks, I sure know the difference. Lots of pollen right now!

Richard E Cooley
Richard E Cooleyabout a year ago

Thank you.

Elizabeth O
Elizabeth Oabout a year ago

Thanks for the article.

D Smithabout a year ago

Thanks :D