Top tips to help you tell between an allergy and the common cold

Top tips to help you tell between an allergy and the common cold

It can be difficult to distinguish between an allergy flare up and the start of a common cold. This is because they may share several symptoms, such as a runny nose and sneezing. We’ve put together a list of things to look for to help distinguish an allergic reaction from a common cold.

1. Nasal discharge

A runny nose due to allergies will usually produce thin, watery mucus. In contrast, nasal mucus will usually thicken over the course of a common cold. 1

2. The length of your symptoms

If your symptoms persist for longer than one to two weeks, it is more likely that an allergy is the cause. This is because the things that may trigger an allergic reaction, such as pollen, are likely to be in your environment for an ongoing period of time, such as during spring for example. Unlike allergies, colds are caused by a viral infection of the respiratory tract2 and usually only last around three days to a week. However, more severe infections can last up to two weeks.1

3. The timing of your symptoms

Making a note of when your symptoms occur may also help in identifying their cause. Unlike a viral infection, an allergy will cause symptoms that recur in certain situations, or are persistent. For example, symptoms that occur every year at around the same time, such as spring or autumn, may be due to hayfever (a pollen allergy). The allergy symptoms occur whenever the responsible pollens are released by trees, plants and grasses. If you always seem to start sneezing or have watery eyes and a runny nose in certain places, such as around hay, or damp areas such as the basement or bathroom, you may have an allergy to mould. Symptoms that spring up every time you touch or are around animals may point to an allergy to pet dander. 3

4. Fever

Both allergies and colds can be distinguished from other viral infections, such as influenza, by a lack of high grade fever and significant fatigue. 1

If you are experiencing the symptoms of an allergy, cold or flu, speak to your healthcare professional for advice on the best form of treatment for you.