Is It an Allergy or a Cold?

By Michael Galvan | 03/10/2016

Because colds and seasonal allergies can share many of the same symptoms, it can be easy to confuse the two. However, the long-term treatment for each is very different.

What is a cold?

What we call “a cold” is actually the collection of similar symptoms caused by any one of hundreds of different types of common viruses. Viruses are tiny organisms that infect your cells and must be fought off by your body’s immune system. Colds are generally passed through airborne means (sneezing/coughing) or direct physical contact with an infected person (shaking hands with someone who coughed or sneezed into his or her hand).

What are seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies are caused by substances known as allergens. Allergens can be anything from pollen to certain foods and man-made substances to which your body has a negative reaction. Allergies occur when rour immune system treats an allergen like a harmful virus. This response by the immune system is what causes wide spread symptoms.

In other words, a cold happens when your body is fighting off a real threat (a virus) and an allergy happens when your body is battling substances to which you have developed a sensitivity, even though they are be harmless to people without increased sensitivity to them. Seasonal allergies are typically plant-based and influenced by nature’s normal cycles.

If you find yourself with a runny nose or are feeling a bit under the weather, you can begin to assess whether you have a cold or seasonal allergy by examining three key indicators.

1.What are the symptoms?


People with colds often have fits of coughing and sneezing, stuffy noses, and sore throats. Pay special attention to fevers and body aches. These do not occur in people with seasonal allergies and are a tell-tale sign of a cold.

Seasonal Allergies

Allergies might seem similar to colds because they can result in sneezing, runny noses, congestion, and sore throats. But allergies can also cause rashes and itchy eyes, and fever and body aches are not typically associated with an allergy. Pay special attention and look for allergy triggers. Does the air outside make your symptoms worse?

2. What time of year did the symptoms start?


Many colds will arise during the fall.   At certain points in autumn, nearly 75% of circulating viruses are rhinoviruses that cause colds. [1]

Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies often occur in the spring and summer. If you think you might have allergies, try and note the months when symptoms start to appear. Also be sure to capture your exposure to any specific elements that might help to pinpoint the cause of allergy symptoms.

3. What is the duration of symptoms?


Colds usually last between seven to ten days.

Seasonal Allergies

Allergies will last as long as the allergen is present. Depending on your allergen, this could be a period of weeks, months, or years.

If you think that you have a cold, but the symptoms are severe and don’t get better after a few days you may have influenza, which is far more serious. Consult a doctor immediately. People affected by seasonal allergies may also need to see a doctor and inquire about possible allergy treatments.