Differences Between Colds and Allergies

Sometimes, allergy symptoms and cold symptoms feel so similar we wonder if it’s allergies or something else. Some symptoms can be confused with an infection, but mostly, we confuse allergies with the common cold. Allergies are fairly common and can appear in people of all ages, so it’s important for you to learn exactly what the differences between colds and allergies are. In the next few paragraphs, you’ll find a discussion of the differences between colds and allergies, as well as what you can do about them.

mom and daughter sitting outside on the grass sneezing because they don't know the differences between colds and allergies

The Differences Between Colds and Allergies

What is the Common Cold?

When people are talking about the common cold, they’re generally talking about a sickness caused by a virus. Viruses can be passed around through human contact or by being close to someone who has an airborne strain of the illness. When that person sneezes or coughs, the virus becomes airborne and others can breathe it in. If an infected person wipes their nose with their hand or touches their face while ill and then touches other surfaces, you can also get ill from touching those infected surfaces.

How the immune system acts

When your immune system comes in contact with the illness, the virus’ high rate of mutation makes it difficult for your system to deal with it as quickly as other viruses that mutate more slowly. This is why the common cold is a sickness that is currently difficult to cure. Typically, symptoms clear up in a short period of time, though, and treatment mostly involves inhibiting symptoms.

If you have gotten a cold virus, then it’s likely that you’ll have symptoms that change every few days. These can include sore throat, coughing, sneezing and fever. One thing that is quite unique from allergies is that colds sometimes include soreness in your body.


Allergic reactions are very different from colds. This is because they are caused by the presence of environmental factors like pollen and pollutants in the air. When your skin, eyes, and mucous membranes come in contact with these substances, your body tries to get rid of them. It does this through coughing and sneezing, but you will notice that the bodily soreness is completely absent. Your skin can also provide some tells including crusting, redness, and itchiness.

Unlike colds, sneezing and hot, watery eyes are the worst symptoms. Allergies indicate an immune system that isn’t working correctly. By that I mean that it identifies harmless substances as dangerous. It seems overactive and ultimately, needs healing.

Another major difference is that allergies can continue for longer periods than most colds do. This means that instead of feeling ill for a few days, you feel sick for close to a month or more.

Call Your Doctor

If you have persistent symptoms, then it could be a serious infection or illness that needs to be looked at. Many colds that go unchecked for too long have been known to weaken a person enough to cause them to contract pneumonia. If you act quickly, you can avoid being in a worse situation. 


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