March 5, 2024

A runny nose, cough, sneezing, and headaches can be uncomfortable symptoms. Because these can be signs of both seasonal allergies and the common cold, it can be hard to tell the difference when you’re feeling sick. However, understanding the differences between the two can help you choose the best treatment. Keep reading to find out how to tell the difference between seasonal allergies and a cold.

What Is a Cold?

Colds are caused by viruses that are transmitted from one person to another. You can catch a cold by being around someone who is contagious with the virus. You can become infected with the virus if you breathe in airborne respiratory droplets or touch something that has been contaminated with the virus. When the virus enters your body, your body’s immune system launches an attack. This immune response can bring on symptoms of a cold such as nasal congestion and a cough. Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks while your immune system fights off the illness.

What Are Seasonal Allergies?

pollen and dust particles in the air

Seasonal allergies are not caused by a virus and are not contagious. Instead, they result from an overactive immune system. An allergic response occurs when your body mistakes things such as pollen or dust for germs and attacks them. This immune response releases histamine just like when your body is fighting a cold. The release of histamine causes swelling in your nasal passageways, which leads to sneezing, coughing, and congestion. If you have seasonal allergies, you likely feel sick around the same times each year. This is because allergens such as certain pollens or molds become more prevalent at certain times of the year.

Differences Between Seasonal Allergies and Colds

The best way to tell the difference between seasonal allergies and colds is by looking at the symptoms you’re having and how long they last. A cold typically lasts 3 to 14 days. Allergies, on the other hand, last for the duration you’re in contact with the trigger, which can be days to months. If your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, you’re most likely experiencing allergies.

When you catch a cold, symptoms usually begin a few days after infection. Allergy symptoms can begin immediately after exposure to allergens. Both allergies and a cold can cause a sore throat and cough, though an allergy cough is typically dry. A runny or stuffy nose and headache are common with both. Seasonal allergies never cause a fever or body aches, but these are sometimes present in a cold. If you have itchy, watery eyes, you’re most likely experiencing allergies.

Managing Colds and Allergies

woman using nasal spray

When you start to feel sick from a cold or seasonal allergies, you can use simple home remedies for temporary relief, such as resting, drinking lots of water, doing saline rinses, and drinking warm liquids. Over-the-counter medications can also help manage symptoms. If you think you have a cold and you’re experiencing a slight fever, muscle aches, or headache, you can take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to lower your fever and provide pain relief. If you suspect you’re dealing with seasonal allergies, try taking an oral antihistamine. Whether you’re suffering from a cold or seasonal allergies, nasal sprays and decongestants can reduce inflammation and congestion in your sinuses. If your symptoms are severe or long-lasting, you should see a doctor for treatment.

Protect Yourself Against Seasonal Allergies

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you’re likely miserable for weeks to months at a time each year. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to reduce the effects of allergens on your body so that you don’t have to suffer all season long. Check out these best ways to fight against seasonal allergies so you can continue living your best life even during allergy season!