Allergies vs Cold: How to Tell Why You're Sniffling

Warmer temps and the first barbecues of the summer may be making their initial appearance at last, but spring also brings with it some not-so-pleasant elements. 'Tis that time of year, ladies, where common colds and allergies rear their ugly heads! We want nothing more than an afternoon in the sun, but with symptoms sprouting up left and right, getting a moment of peace can be almost impossible! Plus, popping all those cold and allergy meds haphazardly can leave us feeling depleted and groggy, especially if we aren't treating the right ailment! So if you are ready to identify the source of your discomfort and get back on the road to recovery, check out the information below.

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Pick your poison: colds, flus, or allergies. Unfortunately, diagnosing each of these individually can be tricky since they are all respiratory issues. While flu symptoms tend to be more severe, colds and allergies especially can become intertwined almost to the point where distinguishing the differences can be taxing and time consuming. It almost seems easier to just down everything in your medicine cabinet and pray that something takes hold, right?

There are a couple of key symptoms that can keep you on the right track. Flus, like colds, frequently present with runny or stuffy noses, congestion, cough and sore throat, but flus are often accompanied by a high fever that lasts for about three or four days, severe headaches, fatigue and bodily aches and pains. While these last few symptoms do occasionally pop up with a severe cold, they are typically much more manageable and treatable.

>> Read more: 5 Surprising Foods that Fight Off the Flu

Allergies, on the other hand, are not viral like flus and colds. In most cases, allergies are the immune system's reaction to a trigger, like an allergen such as pollen or pet dander. When you inhale an allergen, the cells in your nasal passages and airways overreact to the perceived threat, which leads to your typical allergy symptoms. Signs can include swollen or runny nose, coughing, and watery or itchy eyes. This last symptom in particular is one of the primary defining characteristics when it comes to an allergic reaction. Unlike colds and flus, allergies can be drawn out as long as the pollutants linger in the air. People often suffer six weeks or more if they go untreated, so finding a medication that works for you early on in the game is key!

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Pick your remedy: antivirals, decongestants, and antihistamines. Luckily, there are many treatment options for all three afflictions; the tricky part is finding the one that works for you! For flus, doctors often recommend plenty of fluids, rest, over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil or ibuprofen to reduce aches and fevers, and prescribed antivirals. Along with rest and fluids, colds can be managed with over-the-counter medicines like NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and decongestants like pseudoephedrine.

For allergies, it's all about targeting the primary sources of your discomfort. Antihistamines like Claritin or Benadryl will help with the runny nose, sneezing, and watery or itchy eyes, but beware of the drowsiness! Nasal decongestants are popular for those of us suffering from congestion, and can relieve pressure almost instantaneously. However, it is easy to become dependent on nasal sprays, so try not to use them for more than five days in a row.


A word of warning: Just remember that overdosing on a variety of active ingredients in certain meds, instead of taking the time to find one that works with your body, can be dangerous to your health and can lead to unexpected side effects. There are hundreds of medicines on the market that promise you instant relief, but consulting with your doctor will help you hone in on the treatment option that is best for you. For more information, check out our sources: National Institutes of Health,,