Cold vs Allergy Symptoms

Cold Symptoms Vs. Allergy Symptoms: Which one is it?

From a runny nose and sneezing to headaches and an itchy throat, cold symptoms and allergy symptoms can have significant overlap. So how do you know if you’re suffering from a cold or flu virus or simply from seasonal allergies? First, it helps to know what causes allergies versus what causes the common cold.

Allergies are caused by an autoimmune response to foreign bodies, while the common cold is caused by a virus.
An allergic reaction is a response of your body’s immune system to something that does not bother most other people – like pollen, mold spores, dust mites and pet dander. Scientists think both genes and the environment have something to do with who will develop allergies and who will not.

How do Allergies Develop?

Did you know? In most cases, the part of the body the allergen touches affects what symptoms you develop. For example:
Allergens that you breathe in often cause a stuffy nose, itchy nose and throat, mucus production, cough, or wheezing.
Allergens that touch the eyes may cause itchy, watery, red, swollen eyes.

What are the Symptoms of Allergies vs. Colds?


Because there is so much overlap between the symptoms of the common cold and flu versus those of seasonal allergies, here is a table to help you determine which you’re suffering from:

Runny Nose Usually Usually
Cough Usually Sometimes
Sneezing Usually Usually
Sore Throat Usually Sometimes
Itchy Eyes Rarely Usually
Aches and Pains Sometimes Rarely
Fatigue Sometimes Sometimes
Fever Rarely Never
Congestion Usually Usually
Itchy Throat Rarely Sometimes
Headache Sometimes Rarely

Check your symptoms against those above. Then use the chart to determine where you stand. If you’re suffering from an itchy throat, for example, it may be an allergy cough – rather than a cough caused by a cold. If you have a headache that you can feel in your sinuses, it may be an allergy headache.

Antihistamines and Decongestants for Colds and Allergies


Treatment of a common cold may include rest, pain relievers and over-the-counter cold remedies, such as decongestants and OTC antihistamines. Treatments of seasonal allergies may include over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays and decongestants, and avoidance of exposure to allergens where possible.


Steckelberg, James M, M.D., Cold or Allergy: Which is it? Retrieved from: February 8, 2012.

National Institute of Health. Allergies. Retrieved from: February 8, 2012.