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Is It a Cold or Allergies?

Find Out What Ails You by Assessing Your Symptoms

-- By Liza Barnes, Registered Nurse and Health Educator

You’re sneezing. Your nose is running. Your eyes are watering. And you’re feeling run down. Is it a cold, allergies, or something else?

When you've got the sniffles, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the causes of your symptoms so that you know which treatment to seek, whether or not you’re contagious, whether you should see your health-care provider, and how to prevent your symptoms from coming back.

Colds and allergies, quite obviously, have very different causes. Although the symptoms of both ailments occur when your body’s immune system reacts to a foreign body, in the case of colds, this foreign body is a virus, while for allergies, the culprit is generally something benign, such as dust mite particles or pollen. When exposed to allergens, your body recognizes the foreign substance as harmful, so it creates an immune response as if you were sick. So how do you tell the difference?

This chart, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, shows the differences and similarities between symptoms of colds and allergies. Note that the chart describes common symptoms of allergies to airborne particles only, like dust, pollen, mold spores, and pet dander, not necessarily to food or drug allergies, which can present very different symptoms. Note that the three most distinguishing factors to pay attention to are body aches, itchy eyes and a sore throat.

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