Allergies or the Common Cold: Spotting the Difference

By Leigh K. | Updated: Jun 18, 2020


Since the symptoms of the common cold can be very similar to those of nasal allergies, it can be quite difficult to pinpoint which one you are suffering from when symptoms first begin.

Allergies or the Common Cold: Spotting the Difference1

The easiest way to differentiate allergies from the common cold is by how long symptoms last. A common cold usually lasts somewhere between 7 and 10 days, whereas allergies can last much longer depending on whatever is causing the allergy. Since you don't know how long symptoms will last when you are first experiencing them, you may want to look to other factors to help differentiate between the two. Continue reading to discover the most common differences between the symptoms of the common cold and those of allergies.

Common Cold

The common cold brings a number of typical symptoms with it. These are four of the most prevalent symptoms of a common cold that are not usually caused by allergies:


Allergies or the Common Cold: Spotting the Difference2

Coughing is a classic sign of the common cold. Whether you have a barking cough, tickling cough, or dry cough, you'll know you probably have a cold, as coughing is not a common symptom of allergies.


Suffering from nasal congestion is typical of the common cold. The membranes that line the nose become swollen and make it feel like your nose is blocked. This frustrating sensation is usually accompanied by yellow or green colored snot, which is a sign you have an infection and are probably not suffering from allergies.


Allergies will not usually affect your body temperature, so if you feel yourself getting very hot and cold, and you have a temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or more, then it's very like you have a cold or even the flu.

Staggered symptoms

Perhaps the easiest way to tell whether you have a common cold or allergies is the timing in which the symptoms occur. With a common cold, you will often experience different symptoms one by one with a slight overlap.


Allergies have their own set defining characteristics that can help you discern what you are suffering from. Here are three of the most common ones:

Itchy eyes, nose, and throat

This is one of the most frustrating and annoying symptoms of allergies, and common colds do not tend to cause it.


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Though sneezing can occur during the common cold as your body tries to clear your nose, it is much more frequent and severe when you are suffering from allergies, as the particles you are allergic to irritate your airways.

Symptoms all occur at once

If you are suffering from allergies, you will find that all of the symptoms generally hit you at once, rather than in the staggered fashion of common cold symptoms.

Knowing whether you are suffering from a common cold or from allergies can be difficult due to similarities in symptoms. However, by knowing what is typical of each and what separates them, you can better identify the cause of your symptoms and find the correct treatments.

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