Cold and Flu

What is the difference between a cold and an allergy?

A Answers (5)

  • AStacy Wiegman, PharmD, Pharmacy, answered
    The difference between a cold and an allergy starts with the causes of each condition. A cold is an infection caused by a virus. An allergy is the body’s reaction to an allergen, a substance (such as pollen) that your immune system views as an invader. A cold will typically last for a week to 10 days, while an allergy continues for as long as you’re exposed to the allergen. Colds are most common during the winter, but allergies can occur any time—usually in spring and fall. A cold evolves, starting with a runny or stuffy nose, mucus that may turn yellow or green, and a sore throat. An allergy occurs when you’re exposed to the allergen. Your nose runs with clear mucus, you sneeze and your eyes itch.
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  • ATanya Remer Altmann, MD, Pediatrics, answered
    What is the difference between a cold and an allergy?
    To tell the difference between a cold or flu and allergies, you look at the onset and the duration. In this video Tanya Altmann, MD, pediatrician, explains that cold and flu symptoms clear up within a week, whereas allergies are chronic.
  • APeter Mattar, MD, Family Medicine, answered on behalf of MDLIVE

    Differentiating between cold and allergy symptoms can be challenging. Cold symptoms include runny nose, cough, fever at times, head congestion, sore throat, and/or headache. Allergy symptoms include clear runny nose, postnasal drip causing itchy throat, watery itchy eyes, and/or sneezing. Colds last few days to a week, but allergy symptoms can last for months at a time. Although colds and allergies can occur any times, colds usually occur in the winter months while allergies usually peak in the fall and spring.

  • ALeigh Vinocur, MD, Emergency Medicine, answered
    Cold symptoms and allergies are somewhat similar. Colds almost always include cough and congestion with a yellowish mucus discharge as well as occasional muscle aches, fatigue and sometimes fever. Most colds usually begin with a sore throat. Allergies symptoms almost never include a fever or sore throat; the most common allergy symptoms are itchy, watery eyes and clear mucus congestion or postnasal drip.
    Colds can last anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks, whereas allergy symptoms can last for months. Colds occur in winter months most often, but can occur at anytime. Allergies, especially seasonal ones, usually appear in spring due to flowers and tree pollen, and the fall for grasses. However, mold and dust allergies can occur anytime.

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  • ASherrie Pierce, DNP, Nursing, answered on behalf of Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)

    Telling the difference between cold and allergy symptoms can be difficult to distinguish even for health care providers. I explain it to my patients like this:  If it is allergies you will have sneezing, itching, nasal congestion and a clear watery nasal drainage (most of the time). If you have a cold you may have a fever, a more persistent sore throat, cough, general malaise and a thicker mucous but clear runny nose (most of the time). Nasal drainage can sometimes be cloudy or darker, especially in the morning, and this does not necessarily mean you need an antibiotic. Treat cold symptoms with fluids, rest and good nutrition and see your health care provider if symptoms last longer than 7 days or worsen.

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