Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Cold or allergy: Which is it?

I seem to get a cold every spring and fall. I'm wondering if these "colds" are really seasonal allergies. How can I tell?

Updated: 02-08-2012

Answer

If you tend to get "colds" that develop suddenly and occur at the same time every year, it's possible that you actually have seasonal allergies. Although colds and seasonal allergies may share some of the same symptoms, they are very different diseases.

Common colds are caused by viruses, while seasonal allergies are immune system responses triggered by exposure to an allergen. Treatment of a common cold may include rest, pain relievers and over-the-counter cold remedies, such as decongestants. Treatment of seasonal allergies may include over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays and decongestants, and avoidance of exposure to allergens where possible.

Symptom check: Is it a cold or allergy?
Symptom Cold Allergy
Cough Usually Sometimes
General aches and pains Sometimes Never
Fatigue Sometimes Sometimes
Itchy eyes Rarely Usually
Sneezing Usually Usually
Sore throat Usually Sometimes
Runny nose Usually Usually
Stuffy nose Usually Usually
Fever Rarely Never

Adapted from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 2008