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What is the difference between a cold and allergies?

Allergies and colds are often confused. Both conditions are characterized by runny or stuffy noses and coughs. Allergies and colds may be similar, but they are not the same. In addition to having different causes, the subtle differences in symptoms and signs, as well how they manifest themselves, can help differentiate the two.

How Do You Treat a Cold?

Colds are viral infections of the upper respiratory system (nose, sinuses, and throat). The most common cold virus is rhinovirus. However, many viruses can also cause colds, including respiratory syncytial, adenovirus and other viruses. These are all strains of coronavirus.

When a person with the virus coughs or sneezes, air droplets are released. You can also contract the virus if you touch the same object that was touched by the person who has the virus. You can get this virus if you touch your nose, mouth or eyes after touching such materials.

After contracting the virus, it will multiply and infect the respiratory tracts and start the inflammation processes that manifest as symptoms. The symptoms usually appear one to four day after contracting the virus. This depends on the level of your immune system. Most colds disappear within a week, but symptoms such as a cough or runny nasal may last for up to two weeks.

If you have been exposed to one virus, then your immune system develops a specific immunity. You haven’t been exposed to many viruses so you could be at risk at any moment. Children get colds more than twice a month, while adults are affected about once a month.

What are allergies?

Allergies are usually caused by your immune system attacking harmless allergens, such as dust or pollen. It means that your immune system mistakenly views them as harmful substances.

Histamines, among other substances, are released into the bloodstream. These chemicals are released and cause allergy symptoms.

Hay fever is the most common type of allergy. Hay fever is often associated with allergic conjunctivitis which causes eye symptoms. Seasonal allergies can also be a cause of asthma.



  • Dry Cough
  • Clear mucus, runny nose
  • Itchy nose, throat or eyes
  • All symptoms can occur at once and persist for several months


  • Productive cough, but not always productive
  • Runny nose, green or yellow mucus
  • Fever
  • The symptoms progress one by one and last for ten days at most.


Diagnoses are crucial for treating either of these two diseases. Only at the diagnosis stage can your healthcare provider determine which disease you have. A detailed history of symptoms and signs will be taken and, when needed, a physical exam will be performed.

In an effort to determine a possible cause, your healthcare provider will also check vital signs and examine your nose and ears.



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