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Health library

reviewed 8/9/2018

Cold vs. allergy: Which is it?

Sneezing. Runny nose. Coughing. These symptoms all fit the bill for both allergies and colds. Take this quiz to learn the subtle differences.

Allergy, Cold or Either: I think what I have is caused by a virus.

Cold. While allergies are caused by exposure to allergens, colds are viral infections you pick up from infected people or contaminated objects. Either way, over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines can help relieve your symptoms.

Allergy, Cold or Either: It's summertime and I have a runny nose. What do I have?

Either. You might be inclined to believe that you have a summer cold. But that might not be the case. Allergy-causing mold and grass pollens are active during the summer. So your symptoms could be caused by a cold or an allergy, and the answer will depend on other factors. But if your eyes are itchy, it's probably allergies.

Allergy, Cold or Either: I'm coughing and sneezing with yellow mucus coming from my nose.

Either. Clear drainage is normal for both allergies and colds. With allergies, the mucus is thin and watery, but a cold will develop thicker mucus and usually turn yellow. However, yellow mucus can happen with allergies too.

Allergy, Cold or Either: I have a fever.

Cold. Allergies do not cause a fever—infections do. But a mild fever is a rare symptom of a cold, so you might have the flu or another infection, especially if the fever is high.

Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms have gotten worse over time.

Cold. If your symptoms evolve—your runny nose turns into a sore throat and coughing, for example—you probably have a cold. Usually, it will only last 7 to 10 days and go away on its own.

Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms have lasted more than two weeks.

Either. While colds can feel like they linger for a while, they should go away after a week or so. Allergies will stick around as long as the allergen is present. But it's also possible you have developed a sinus infection, whether it started as a cold or allergies.

Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms began suddenly.

Allergy. Allergies kick in immediately when you're exposed to an allergen. Symptoms of a cold come on more gradually, sometimes over a few days.

If allergy symptoms are interfering with your ability to function normally, talk to a doctor. Cold symptoms can also be similar to other illnesses, such as the flu. Make sure you know the difference next time you come down with something.

Compare flu and cold symptoms

Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America; National Institutes of Health

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