Since we’re older, many of us think we can distinguish a cold from an allergy. Not! Cold and allergy symptoms often overlap but there are differences.

What is a cold?

Viruses transmitted through airborne secretions that are inhaled when a sick person coughs or sneezes can bring on the common cold. There are more than 200 cold viruses, and different viruses cause different symptoms. Cold germs can also live on surfaces and can infect a person when they touch objects like door handles, ATM buttons, pens or computer keyboards. You can catch a cold at any point throughout the year no matter the season but they occur more frequently during the fall and winter and can be contagious for up to two days before any symptoms pop up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average healthy adult can catch up to three colds per year and its duration can linger for up to ten days. Here’s an interesting tidbit; allergy sufferers are more prone to catching colds.

Cold symptoms

The typical symptoms that usually accompany a cold are as follows:



Sore throat

Stuffy nose

Occasional fever

If a cold lasts for more than a week or two then there is probably a more serious infection going on like pneumonia, bronchitis or a sinus infection.

All about allergies

Folks who suffer from allergies have immune systems that identify certain allergens (triggering substances) as harmful. When folks who have allergies come into contact with these allergens, their immune systems can cause reactions that bring on skin, sinus/airway or digestion issues. The severity of the reactions can differ across the board from mild to a potentially life-threatening reaction like anaphylaxis that can send a person into shock. The duration of an allergy depends on the treatment or the removal of the cause. Seasonal allergies will cause symptoms at any point during the year for two or three weeks at a time. Pollen allergies are common during the spring. Grass allergies can strike in late spring through summer. Ragweed allergies tend to come around late summer and fall.

Allergies and colds share some common symptoms:



Sore throat

Runny nose


Watery eyes

Never a fever

Folks who have allergies tend to also have rashes and itchy eyes whereas the common cold does not typically cause these reactions.

A few other differences

Colds can also result in:


Body aches


Allergies can bring on:

Itchy eyes, nose


Skin rashes like eczema or hives

Snot color

Don’t look at the color of your snot to see if you have a cold or allergies. Green nasal discharge is a sign of infection but allergies can cause nasal discharge in various colors. A cold can also make your nasal snot run clear.


Your doctor can determine if whether you have a cold, allergy or something more serious by asking you questions about your symptoms and performing tests like chest x-rays if needed. Allergies can be diagnosed via blood and skin tests.

Stop believing antibiotics will rid you of a cold! These drugs ONLY kill bacteria and DO NOT work on mere colds. If you have a cold, a doctor may recommend OTC meds like cough syrups, decongestant nasal sprays and pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol.

Allergy specialists will often treat allergies with such meds as antihistamines (like Allegra, Benadryl or Zyrtec) to block the release of histamines, a chemical found in body cells that cause allergy symptoms. They might also recommend the use of decongestants like Sudafed, Mucinex DM or Claritin-D to shrink swollen nasal membranes. Other treatments for the treatment of allergies can include eye drops, allergy shots, saline sprays, and humidifiers.

Bottom line

Even though some allergies and colds might seem similar, they are in fact very different and will be treated as such. If you have symptoms that are going beyond ten days or if they worsen, don’t hesitate to see a doctor immediately!