Cold vs. Allergies

When you start sneezing, coughing, or experiencing other respiratory problems, do you sometimes wonder if it’s a cold, or is it just your allergies flaring up again?

As the symptoms for certain allergies and colds are similar, it can be hard to differentiate the two. But knowing the difference in symptoms is an important step to finding a suitable treatment. Fortunately, there are some ways to tell these two conditions apart so you can seek out appropriate treatments and start feeling better quickly!

Woman blowing her nose with a tissue

What are Allergies?

When functioning properly, the immune system is designed to protect your body from harmful invaders such as viruses and bacteria. Therefore, you sneeze, cough, or experience a fever when you are sick.1

Similarly, an allergic reaction occurs when your body's immune system reacts to generally non-harmful particles, such as dust, dander, and pollen. This reaction causes the symptoms we experience when having an allergy attack, including sneezing, watery eyes, itchy eyes and runny nose. Depending on the severity of your allergic reaction, these symptoms can sometimes be annoying and disruptive to your daily life.2

Luckily, there are lots of ways to help alleviate your allergy symptoms. Start by trying to avoid environments with aggressive allergens, and by taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve your allergy symptoms. Check out Reactine® Extra Strength, Canada’s #1 selling antihistamine designed to help you alleviate your symptoms and let you enjoy your day.

What is a Cold?

Unlike allergies, a cold is an illness caused by a rhinovirus that infects the upper respiratory tract, including the nose and throat. When your body detects a virus or bacteria, it triggers your immune system to fight these invaders by producing a protein called antibodies.3 On average, a cold will go away on its own within 7 – 10 days, although some cold symptoms may last longer. 4

Although it is possible to catch a cold at any time during the year, colds are most common during the fall and winter months when the air is dry, and people linger in confined spaces.

While the common cold cannot be ‘cured’, you can help alleviate your cold symptoms with OTC medications such as Tylenol® Complete Cold, Cough and Flu, or with at-home remedies such as breathing in steam drinking plenty of warm water, or using a nasal spray.

Cold Vs. Allergy Symptoms

The difference in symptoms between cold and allergies can be subtle, but the following highlights the primary differences between the two:5

 Symptom             Cold                                 Allergies                
Fever Sometimes Unlikely
Body Aches Sometimes Unlikely
Itchy Eyes Unlikely Yes
Sneezing Yes Yes
Congestion Yes Yes
Runny Nose Yes Yes
Mucus Thick, Yellow/Green Thin, clear

While a cold may last anywhere from 7 – 10 days, allergies tend to last much longer and throughout the season, or when constantly exposed to certain environments. Cold symptoms also appear more gradually compared to allergies where symptoms may suddenly flare up.

Dealing with confusing symptoms can be problematic, especially when you are trying to figure out the most appropriate treatment for your condition. If you are still unsure of your symptoms, consult your doctor or local healthcare practitioner for further advice. When taking OTC medications, always follow the instructions directed on the label and never take the medications for longer than prescribed.