Blog/Do I Have Seasonal Allergies Or A Cold?
5/1/2023 | 3 min read

Do I Have Seasonal Allergies Or A Cold?

How to tell the difference

An African American woman and man sitting on a sofa next to each other, while the woman is blowing into tissue.

The sun is shining, the days are longer and winter is finally starting to fade away! But wait, is that a sore throat and a runny nose? Something is setting in, but at this time of year, you have to ask the question: is it a cold or just allergies?

It can be hard to tell the common cold apart from seasonal allergies since they both share very similar symptoms, can linger year-round and regularly occur during certain times of the year. However, they do have some key differentiators you can use to tell them apart.

By learning the differences between seasonal allergies and the common cold you can find the right method of relief faster. (Which may include tapping into virtual care for fast treatment!)

What are seasonal allergies?

While seasonal allergies can occur at any time of the year, they are most prominent during spring, summer and fall. Seasonal allergies are caused by an overactive immune system. This means your immune system fights off harmless substances like pollen or pet dander as if they are bacteria or a virus. 

Allergy symptoms can appear immediately after contact with the allergen trigger and can last from days to months depending on how long you are exposed. (They can also be incredibly exhausting due to that wide timeframe!) While the allergies themselves are not contagious, they can lead to other complications such as a sinus or ear infection, eczema or asthma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25.7% of adults and 18.9% of children have a seasonal allergy.

What is the common cold?

The common cold can also occur at any time of the year, but is most prominent during the winter months. According to the American Lung Association, the common cold can be caused by over 200 viruses but is usually the rhinovirus. 

Cold symptoms take 2 to 3 days to appear and can last anywhere from 3 to 14 days. However, if you have a weakened immune system, asthma or other underlying conditions that affect the respiratory tract, symptoms may last longer. The infection can be contagious and can lead to other complications such as sinus or ear infection, bronchitis or pneumonia.

The CDC states that adults have an average of 2 to 3 colds per year while children have an average of 5 to 7 (sometimes more). 

So, what is it? A cold or allergies?

A great way to tell the difference between a cold or allergies are by their symptoms, like the presence of a fever or body aches. Here is a side-by-side comparison of allergy and cold symptoms.

Symptom Table

How to treat allergy and cold symptoms 

There are several types of medications that are used to treat allergy and cold symptoms. They are available as tablets, capsules, liquids, inhalers, skin creams, nasal sprays and eye drops. A few are even available as chewable or dissolvable for children! While several are available over-the-counter, others are by prescription only that a doctor must order. 

Here are a few allergy and cold medications and what they are used for. (It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before taking any new medication.)

Allergy Medications:

  • Antihistamines -  block histamine receptors and reduce the physical response your body has to allergens (relieves congestion, itchy skin, sneezing, etc.)

    • Allegra (Fexofenadine) 

    • Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) 

    • Claritin (Loratadine) 

    • Zyrtec (Cetirizine) 

  • Decongestants - used for quick, temporary relief of nasal and sinus congestion

    • Afrin (Oxymetazoline)

    • Mucinex D (Guaifenesin-Pseudoephedrine) 

    • Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine) 

Cold Medications:

  • Pain relievers - reduce fever, headaches, sore throat and body aches

    • Advil (ibuprofen)

    • Aleve (Naproxen)

    • Tylenol (Acetaminophen)

  • Decongestants / Cough suppressants - quick, temporary relief of cough, nasal and sinus congestion 

    • DayQuil (Acetaminophen-Dextromethorphan-Phenylephrine)

    • NyQuil (Acetaminophen-Dextromethorphan-Doxylamine Succinate)

    • Mucinex DM (Guaifenesin-Dextromethorphan)

    • Robitussin (Dextromethorphan-Guaifenesin)

Tip: Generic medications work just as well as name brands. 

Best practices to reduce exposure 

Although catching the common cold or being exposed to an allergen is ultimately inevitable for most people, there are ways to decrease your risk. 

Reducing exposure to allergies

Try to minimize your contact with allergens such as dust, fungi, mold, animal dander and pollen. While this may be difficult there are some actions you can take:

  • Staying indoors on dry, windy days (the best time to go outside is after a steady rain)

  • Don’t hang laundry outside (pollen can stick to fabric)

  • Avoid lawn care but if you can’t, wear a mask

  • Monitor the pollen levels, if high, take medicine before symptoms start

  • Close all doors and windows

  • Wash bedding and blankets often

  • Clean air filters and vents

  • Vacuum carpeted floors and rugs often

  • Shower and change into fresh clothes after being outside 

Reducing exposure of a cold

Try to minimize close contact with sick people and contaminated items. This isn’t always possible but some actions you can take include: 

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

  • Avoid touching your face (mouth, nose, eyes) with unwashed hands

  • Avoid sharing cups, utensils and towels

  • Regularly clean kids toys, counter tops, handles and reusable cups 

Most people will have to deal with allergies or the common cold at least once, if not many times in their life. In fact, if you’re reading this, you’re probably dealing with one of the two right now. Hopefully, this blog has helped you pin down what’s ailing you and given you the tools to find some relief. 

If it’s seasonal allergies, here’s how Agile can help!

Seasonal allergies can be difficult to manage during the warm seasons, but finding the time to squeeze a doctor’s visit into your schedule can be even more challenging. At Agile, we believe everyone should have access to excellent healthcare, regardless of where you are or when you need it. We offer convenient, virtual allergy treatment with same-day relief. Our providers focus on your unique concerns to deliver effective, personalized treatment right away.

Ready to book your allergy visit? Click here!