Do you have allergies or a cold?

Reviewed and updated by Nora Laberee, Medical Writer Mar 07, 2022 • 4 min

Do I have a cold or allergies?

Any time of year can also be stuffy-sinus season for many people. But how do you know if your symptoms are due to a common cold or seasonal allergies?

Allergies vs. cold

While symptoms can feel similar, the main difference between allergies and a cold is the cause. Common colds are from viruses, while seasonal allergies are from your body’s response to exposure to allergens, such as seasonal tree or grass pollens. Another difference can be their duration. Colds usually last three to 10 days. Seasonal allergies may last several weeks.


Both conditions are common and share similar symptoms, such as a runny and stuffy nose. Your body’s immune system fights allergens similar to how it fights common cold viruses, by releasing chemicals such as histamine, which causes symptoms like runny nose and sneezing.



Cough: Usually

Fever: Sometimes

Sore throat: Usually

Itchy eyes: Rarely

Tired and weakness: Sometimes

Runny/stuffy nose: Usually

Sneezing: Usually

Cough: Sometimes

Fever: Never

Sore throat: Rarely

Itchy eyes: Usually

Tired and weakness: Sometimes

Runny/stuffy nose: Usually

Sneezing: Usually


Adults get two to three common cold infections, on average, per year, caused by hundreds of different viruses. Seasonal allergies, on the other hand, affect more than 19 million American adults. Exposure to allergens, such as pollen and airborne mold spores, trigger allergies, which explains why your symptoms might occur seasonally, especially in the spring, summer and fall, when high pollen counts are common.

Prevention and treatment

Aside from avoiding germs as best as you can and washing your hands often, there’s no foolproof way to prevent a cold—and no way to cure it—but you can treat the symptoms. Decongestants and over-the-counter pain relievers can help. 

The best way to prevent seasonal allergies is to know and avoid your allergy triggers. Stay indoors on dry, windy days, especially mornings when pollen counts are high. Check the National Allergy Bureau for current pollen counts or to get an allergy forecast (on a 10-point scale) for your ZIP code. Antihistamines, nasal steroids and decongestants can help relieve allergy symptoms.

If over-the-counter allergy medications don’t work, or if you’re prone to secondary infections, worsening of asthma or other respiratory conditions, see your doctor.

Reviewed and updated by Nora Laberee, March 2022.

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