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Is It a Cold or Seasonal Allergy? Learn the Differences

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learn more about the differences between seasonal allergy and a cold B-D-S/PhotoSpin

With the warmer weather, you may be noticing that you are sneezing and have a runny nose. But are your symptoms the result of a cold or a seasonal allergy?

Signs of a Common Cold

The common cold is likely the most common condition people know of, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It causes 22 million lost school days every year. A cold can last from three days to 14 days, with symptoms beginning about two to three days after viral contact.

Several symptoms can occur with a common cold. For example, a cough, sore throat, stuffy nose and runny nose are common symptoms, according to MedlinePlus. Some individuals may have sneezing and weakness.

Individuals with a common cold may have slight pains and aches when ill. A fever is rare with a common cold, though MedlinePlus noted that young children may have a fever ranging from 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

Signs of a Seasonal Allergy

About 40 million individuals in the United States have an indoor (such as dust) or outdoor (such as pollen) allergy, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The symptoms result from the immune system “fighting” the allergen, causing an inflammation response. The symptoms of a seasonal allergy can last for weeks. It depends on the season for the particular allergen.

As with a common cold, a runny or stuffy nose is a common symptom for seasonal allergies. Unlike cold sufferers, allergy sufferers commonly get itchy eyes. Sneezing usually occurs. Sometimes, individuals can have a cough, weakness and sore throat. General aches and pains and fever never occur with allergies, according to MedlinePlus.

Differences in Treatment

Some of the treatments for these two conditions are the same. For example, MedlinePlus listed antihistamines and decongestants as possible treatments for a common cold and seasonal allergy. Individuals with a cold may benefit from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Nasal steroids are another possibility for seasonal allergies.

You can also take certain steps to prevent both a common cold and seasonal allergies. Reduce your likelihood of catching a cold by washing your hands often and avoiding other people who have a cold. If you have an allergy, you can reduce your symptoms by avoiding your particular allergen, such as pollen or pet dander.


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Overview. Web. 17 April 2013.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Allergy Facts and Figures. Web. 17 April 2013.

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Common Cold. Web. 17 April 2013.

MedlinePlus. Is It a Cold or an Allergy?. Web. 17 April 2013.

Reviewed April 17, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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