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Is it a cold or seasonal allergies?

Posted on March 8, 2018

Sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes can be signs of either a cold or seasonal allergies. During pollen season, it can sometimes be difficult to know the difference. 

Field of yellow flowers

Colds are infections of the upper respiratory tract (sinuses, nasal passages, throat, and larynx). They are caused by several different viruses and are spread by touching a person with a cold, or touching object that someone with a cold has touched, or by breathing the virus in the air after someone with a cold has coughed or sneezed into the air.

Seasonal allergies (hay fever) are caused by the immune system reacting to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds as if they were harmful to the body. This reaction causes symptoms that can be similar to a cold. Allergies often run in families. Seasonal allergies occur at the same time each year. If your child has allergy symptoms all year long, he or she may be allergic to thinks in the home, such as dust mites, animals, or mold.

Cold vs Seasonal Allergies 

The following table is a guide. See your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Symptoms

Allergy (Airborne)

Cold

Stuffy or runny nose

Often

Often

Sneezing

Often

Often

Sore scratchy throat

Often

Often

Red or itchy eyes

Often

Rarely, never

Fever

Never

Often, especially at the start of a cold

Weakness and fatigue

Sometimes

Sometimes

Headache

Sometimes

Often

Cough

Sometimes

Often

Hoarseness

Sometimes

Often

Recur at a certain time of year

Often

Rarely

Need for antibiotics

No

No

Warning time

Symptoms occur after exposure to allergen

Gets worse over several days

How long it lasts

As long as you are exposed to the allergen

Usually three to 14 days

The doctors affiliated with LeConte Medical Center and Covenant Health can help you determine the cause of your symptoms. Find a physician today.