ZocdocAnswersIs there a way to tell the difference between allergies and a cold?

Question

Is there a way to tell the difference between allergies and a cold?

I can't tell if I just have allergies or a cold. My nose is clogged but it kind of gets like that every time around this time. Is there any clear cut way to tell the difference between seasonal allergies and a cold?

Answer

The symptoms you describe sound like they could be from either allergies or an upper respiratory cold since, as you point out, often they can present in a very similar way. A good way to help determine whether you have a cold or allergies (or both!) is to visit your primary care physician to discuss your symptoms in more detail. An upper respiratory cold, usually caused by a virus, is usually characterized by a relatively acute onset of symptoms including nasal congestion, fatigue, low-grade fevers, cough, or sore throat. After several days, usually not more than a week, things usually go back to normal. On the other hand, people with seasonal allergies will have symptoms for the duration of exposure to their triggering allergen. If the substance provoking the allergic reaction is from something like grass or pollen, symptoms can last for weeks or more. Unlike a cold, allergies do not usually cause fevers or discolored nasal discharge or phlegm. However, they do cause watery or red eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing. Symptoms can disrupt sleep, making a person more fatigued, while post-nasal drip can contribute to a sore throat. Overall, your doctor will want to discuss your symptoms in more detail and put this together with a physical exam to determine if you have a cold that will eventually go away versus seasonal allergies that can be effectively treated with one of several different allergy medications.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.