How to Tell the Difference Between Cold and Allergies?

Woman holding stuffy nose

As its namesake suggests, the common cold is one of the most frequently suffered ailments in the world.

Not only is there no cure for it, but it also shares quite a few features with another one of the world’s most common health disturbances:


When you’re dealing with a sudden onset of symptoms, it can sometimes be tough to tell the difference between cold and allergies. This short guide is here to help.

Here are a few things to look for when trying to determine the source of that annoying sneeze.

1. Duration

One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re suffering from a cold or allergies is by taking note of how long your symptoms last. Allergies last significantly longer than colds, so it’s often a dead giveaway.

Colds typically last anywhere between 3 days and 2 weeks. If your symptoms last longer than that, it’s almost certainly not a cold.

Allergies can last for weeks or months without any significant change. If your symptoms are persisting past the 2-week mark, you should see a doctor or go to an urgent care clinic. You’re most likely experiencing seasonal allergies or something else that isn’t a cold.

2. When it Happens

Contrary to popular belief, you can actually get a cold during any time of the year. That said, they’re far more common in the winter. If you’re getting cold-like symptoms in June, it’s probably allergies.

Seasonal allergies can also crop up during any time of the year, but they’re more common in the warmer months. This is due to the increased allergens in the air from plants and trees.

3. Onset

Cold symptoms usually ramp up over the course of several days after initial exposure. That’s why you’ll hear many people say they feel as if they’re coming down with a cold. Symptoms typically escalate for a few days before becoming pronounced.

With allergies, your symptoms can happen within moments of exposure to the allergen. If you wake up one morning and are suddenly sniffling without having experienced any previous symptoms, it’s more likely that you have allergies than a cold.

4. Cough

Although it’s possible to get a cough with allergies due to an itchy throat, it’s far less typical than it is with a cold. If you have a pronounced and frequent cough, that’s a sure sign of a cold.

5. Aches

Many symptoms cross over, but aches never do. If you’re ever experiencing aches along with other symptoms, you can rest assured that it’s a cold. Aches are not typically associated with allergies.

6. Fever

Though the term “hay fever” can be misleading, a fever is another symptom that isn’t shared between the two conditions. Allergies will not cause fever, so if you’re experiencing one, it’s most likely a cold.

7. Itchy Eyes

Of all the symptoms listed, this is the one most associated with allergies. While colds can cause this in some instances, it’s very rare.

Itchy watery eyes are one of the most common and annoying side effects of allergies. If you can’t seem to shake it, allergies are almost certainly the culprit.

Know the Difference Between Cold and Allergies

Knowing the difference between cold and allergies is essential because it determines what course of treatment you need to take. Pay close attention to your symptoms and reference this list if you have any questions.

If you’ve determined you have a cold, you shouldn’t let the symptoms derail you. Try visiting an urgent care clinic to get some relief.

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