Allergies vs. Cold: Understand the Difference

Know the difference between an allergy and a cold.

A woman sitting cozily on a couch enjoying a drink out of a mug.

There are some similarities between allergies and the common cold, so it can be difficult to figure out how to relieve your symptoms. But there are a few ways to identify which is which.

In this page you will find information about

Start by comparing the most obvious symptoms.


Common allergy symptoms¹

  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Itchy, red, and/or watery eyes+
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing+
  • Nasal congestion or sinus pressure+
  • Hives, rash, or other types of skin irritation+

Common cold symptoms²

  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Nasal congestion or sinus pressure
  • Fever or chills

Although they can present as similar, it's useful to note the differences between allergy and cold symptoms. For instance, itchy, watery eyes or itchy nose or throat are typical allergy symptoms while coughing, muscle aches, and fever or chills usually signal a cold.

Think about how quickly you experienced symptoms and how persistent they are.


Histamine is a chemical released by cells of the immune system when the body encounters an allergen. This causes an allergic reaction.3 Cold symptoms can take longer to fully develop.4

Consider how long you’ve had symptoms.


Allergies are an immune system response that occurs because of exposure to allergens like pollen, dust, or pet dander.

In some people, substances such as pollen, certain foods, latex, mold, pet dander, dust mites or insect stings are allergens that trigger the production of antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release histamine, causing symptoms in the nose, throat, eye, sinuses, ears.5

These symptoms can last throughout a season, or even year around for some people.4 In fact, 19.2 million Americans aged 18 and older were diagnosed with hay fever in 2018.6

In turn, colds are caused by viruses, and symptoms generally last three to ten days.7

Take an even closer look at specific symptoms,,,


Muscle aches

Probably a cold, not allergies.

Fever or chills

Probably a cold, flu, or another more serious condition. Allergies don’t cause a fever.

Itchy eyes 

Watery eyes could be either allergies or a cold. But if your eyes itch, it typically indicates allergies.

Notice the color of your mucus 

Clear and watery mucus is most likely due to allergies. If it’s thick and discolored, it’s probably a cold. 

If you experience prolonged symptoms, make an appointment with your healthcare professional or allergist to ensure the right diagnosis.

Allegra® is here to help.

Allegra® can help you get back to feeling like yourself again. It’s the #1 allergist recommended medicine brand for non-drowsy relief,* with an antihistamine that gives you 24 hours of the fastest non-drowsy relief from indoor and outdoor allergy symptoms. If you experience sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, or an itchy nose or throat, Allegra® can help. For nasal congestion, sinus congestion and pressure, swelling of nasal passages, and other allergy symptoms, try Allegra-D®.

No matter which product you choose, you can feel good knowing Allegra® is the #1 allergist recommended medicine brand for non-drowsy relief.* 

References


  1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Editors. What Are the Symptoms of an Allergy?, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (aafa.org),​​​​2015.

    Oct. 5, 2021.




  2. Ron Eccles. Understanding the symptoms of the common cold and influenza, National Institute of Biotechnology Information (ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pmc),

    2005. Oct. 5, 2021.




  3. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Editors. Histamine, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (aaaai.org),

    2021. Oct. 5, 2021.




  4. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Editors. Sudden Allergies: When a Summer cold is much more, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (acaai.org),

    2014. July 13, 2021.




  5. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Editors. Allergic Reactions, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (aaaai.org),

    September 28, 2020. Oct. 5, 2021.




  6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Editors. Allergies and Hay Fever, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov),

    2018. Oct. 5, 2021.




  7. Pritish K Tosh, MD. Cold or Allergy: Which is it?, Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.com),

    2020. Oct. 5, 2021



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Read full directions and warnings.

*Among OTC oral antihistamines.

Starts working in one hour. Applies to first dose only. Among single-ingredient OTC branded oral antihistamines.

+Allegra is not indicated to relieve coughing, hives or rash, skin irritation, or red eyes. Allegra is indicated to relieve sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes or an itchy nose or throat. Allegra-D is indicated to relieve sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, itchy nose or throat, nasal congestion, sinus congestion and pressure, and swelling of nasal passages.