Allergies vs. Colds - Knowing the Differences

Woman sneezing due to outdoor allergies

Since spring began, you may have noticed that when you step outside to locate your vehicle in a parking lot, it’s covered in pollen and other outside allergens. Perhaps in April each year you find yourself suddenly having cold like symptoms when it may be seasonal allergies. Although colds and allergies may share some similarities, they are different and should be treated that way. How can you tell the difference?  

Seasonal allergies are an individual’s immune system response that is reacting to an allergen, such as tree and grass pollens. They could last several weeks. They may include itchy watery eyes, sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose and an occasional cough. In addition, a visible allergic skin reaction such as eczema can be an allergy sign. Typically allergies do not include a fever, aches or pains or a sore throat, but every case is different. Treatment for seasonal allergies includes over the counter medication and reduced exposure to allergens causing the issue. 

Common colds are most often caused by viruses. They could include all of the same symptoms as seasonal allergies, in addition to a possible fever, coughing, aches and pains. Treatment for colds includes rest, pain relievers and over the counter remedies. Colds are more likely to last three to 10 days, but some can last for longer periods of time.  

If you develop symptoms that could be a cold or an allergic reaction, think about the environment where you’ve recently been exposed. Were you recently around grass, trees and animals? Identify the source, if possible. That may help determine if you can try allergy medication first to treat the symptoms. Did the symptoms come on quickly and at a predictable time? If the answer is yes, it could be a seasonal allergy.

Telling the difference between a cold and an allergy is not easy, so it's important to know when to see a primary care physician. If symptoms last for more than two weeks or if they are severe, it may be a good idea to make an appointment with a doctor. Visit to see a Baptist physician to discuss options and help you find relief from your allergy or cold.