Allergies vs. Cold: Understand the Key Differences

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Published:  February 9, 2024

Are you experiencing sneezing, a runny nose, and congestion? It’s common for people to wonder if they have a cold or allergies when these symptoms appear. Understanding the difference between a cold and allergies can help you manage your symptoms effectively and seek the appropriate treatment. In this article, we will explore the key differences between allergies vs a cold to help you identify which one you might be dealing with.

What Is a Common Cold?

A common cold, often simply known as a cold, is a viral infection that affects the upper part of the respiratory system. It is one of the most prevalent illnesses worldwide and is typically caused by rhinoviruses, although other viruses such as coronaviruses and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can also be responsible.

What Is An Allergy?

An allergy is when your body’s immune system reacts strongly to something that’s usually harmless, like pollen or certain foods. This response can cause symptoms such as itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing, or even skin rashes. Allergies can vary in severity from mild discomfort to life-threatening reactions, known as anaphylaxis, and can be developed at any age and may be influenced by genetic or environmental factors. 

How to Tell the Difference Between Allergies and a Cold?

Cold symptoms and allergy symptoms can often display similarly, making it challenging to determine the cause of your discomfort. However, there are specific symptoms associated with each condition that can help you understand the difference between cold symptoms and allergies.

Allergies vs Cold Symptoms

Cold Symptoms

Colds are usually caused by viral infections and are contagious. The symptoms of a cold may include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose and congestion
  • Thick or colored mucus
  • Sore throat and cough
  • Mild body aches and/or headache
  • Low-grade fever
  • Symptoms that last 7 to 10 days
  • Symptoms that aren’t specific to a time of year or location

Allergy Symptoms

Allergies, on the other hand, are the body’s response to allergens in the environment. These allergens can be seasonal or occur year-round. The symptoms of allergies may include:

  • Sneezing
  • Clear and watery mucus
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Symptoms that last longer than 7 to 10 days
  • Symptoms that occur only in certain situations, such as certain times of the year or being in a specific place (like the home of someone with pets)

Some key differences between allergies and a cold are the consistency of mucus, which is thicker with a cold. Also, the presence of itchy/watery eyes, typically present in allergic reaction, or the lack of a specific trigger (such as the presence of pets) in a cold. Duration is another difference between allergies and colds since allergies usually last longer.

What Causes Allergies and Colds? 

Allergies and colds have different triggers or causes. 

  • Allergies are the result of the body’s immune response to allergens in the environment, such as tree, grass, and weed pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites, or cockroaches.
  • Colds, on the other hand, are caused by viral infections, most commonly by rhinoviruses. Less commonly, other types of viruses can also cause colds.

Seasonal Factors of Allergies and Colds

Throughout the year, both colds and allergies have patterns of occurrence. Colds, while possible at any time, tend to be more frequent during colder months in the United States, this is due the increased transmission of cold-causing viruses in cooler weather. On the other hand, allergies can follow a seasonal pattern, often peaking during specific times when allergens, like pollen, are in the environment. 

Can Allergies Be Mistaken for a Cold?

It’s not uncommon for people to mistake allergies for a cold or vice versa, especially if they haven’t considered the specific symptoms associated with each condition. However, with a closer assessment, it is usually fairly easy to tell the two conditions apart. It is important to note that it is possible to have allergies and a cold simultaneously or back-to-back. 

Here are some key factors that can determine if your condition is a cold or just allergies:

  • Fever, only colds can generate fever.
  • Aches and pains, appearing frequently on colds.
  • Itchy and watery eyes, mostly associated to allergies.

Can Allergies Turn into a Cold?

No, allergies cannot directly turn into a cold. Allergies and colds are caused by different mechanisms, with allergies being an immune response to allergens and colds being caused by viral infections. However, allergies can affect sinus drainage, making it easier for a sinus infection to develop if the sinuses aren’t draining properly. It’s important to manage allergies effectively to minimize the risk of complications.

Can You Take Allergy Medicine With Cold Medicine?

Yes, in many cases, it is safe to take allergy medicine and cold medicine together, but it’s essential to do so under the guidance of a healthcare provider or allergist. Many cold and allergy medicines contain similar active ingredients, such as antihistamines, decongestants, or pain relievers, so taking them together without proper guidance can lead to adverse effects.

Here are some considerations:

  • Carefully read the labels of both allergy and cold medications
  • Consult a healthcare provider or allergist
  • Monitor for side effects

Overall, while it’s generally safe to take cold and allergy medicine together, it’s crucial to use them carefully to avoid potential risks and ensure optimal symptom relief. For more information about allergy medication management, contact our experienced allergists in New Jersey and New York .

Get Allergy Treatment in New Jersey & New York

Understanding the differences between colds and allergies is crucial in managing your symptoms effectively. While both conditions can cause similar symptoms, knowing the specific triggers and characteristics of each can help you determine your course of action. It’s always best to consult a healthcare professional or allergist provider for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Contact Impact Medical today if you are looking for allergy skin tests in New Jersey and New York! 

To schedule an appointment with Impact Medical and learn more about managing allergies, visit our website or contact our office.