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Reviewed 9/4/2020

Cold vs. allergy: Which is it?

Sneezing. Runny nose. Coughing. These symptoms all fit the bill for both allergies and colds. Take this quiz to learn the subtle differences.

Allergy, Cold or Either: I think what I have is caused by a virus.

Cold. While allergies are caused by exposure to allergens, colds are viral infections you pick up from infected people or contaminated objects. Either way, over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines can help relieve your symptoms.

Allergy, Cold or Either: It's summertime and I have a runny nose. What do I have?

Either. You might be inclined to believe that you have a summer cold. But that might not be the case. Allergy-causing mold and grass pollens are active during the summer. So your symptoms could be caused by a cold or an allergy, and the answer will depend on other factors. But if your eyes are itchy, it's probably allergies.

Allergy, Cold or Either: I'm coughing and sneezing with yellow mucus coming from my nose.

Either. Clear drainage is normal for both allergies and colds. With allergies, the mucus is thin and watery, but a cold will develop thicker mucus and usually turn yellow. However, yellow mucus can happen with allergies too.

Allergy, Cold or Either: I have a fever.

Cold. Allergies do not cause a fever—infections do. But a mild fever is a rare symptom of a cold, so you might have the flu or another infection, especially if the fever is high.

Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms have gotten worse over time.

Cold. If your symptoms evolve—your runny nose turns into a sore throat and coughing, for example—you probably have a cold. Usually, it will only last 7 to 10 days and go away on its own.

Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms have lasted more than two weeks.

Either. While colds can feel like they linger for a while, they should go away after a week or so. Allergies will stick around as long as the allergen is present. But it's also possible you have developed a sinus infection, whether it started as a cold or allergies.

Allergy, Cold or Either: My symptoms began suddenly.

Allergy. Allergies kick in immediately when you're exposed to an allergen. Symptoms of a cold come on more gradually, sometimes over a few days.

Environmental factors can be a huge trigger for allergies. Keeping tabs on pollen counts in your area can help you plan ahead (and suffer less). 


Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America; National Institutes of Health

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