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Are Your Cold Symptoms Actually Just Allergies?

Kathleen Ramas is one of the many Digital Editorial Interns for SheKnows. She is a communications student at Fordham University and the Editor-in-Chief of FLASH Magazine, Fordham’s fashion magazine. She’s a proud musician, Game of Throne...

How to tell the difference between having a cold or bad allergies

Spring has sprung, and with that comes killer allergies. But sometimes, these symptoms can get very confusing, and you’re left wondering whether it’ll pass in a few months or if you should go to the doctor because you’re sick. Allergies and colds, which oftentimes get confused during the spring months, share many similar symptoms, but it seems almost impossible to tell the difference. But, fear not, because we’ve got you covered. Next time you’re sniffling and sneezing, consider these things to help you really figure out what’s going on.

1. Duration

According to allergist and immunologist Dr. Bob Geng, “colds don’t usually last longer than two weeks, while allergy symptoms can be felt for months.” So something to look out for when figuring out if you’re dealing with a nasty cold or some pesky allergies is how long you’ve been suffering with symptoms. The shorter they are, the more likely it is that you were experiencing a cold of some sort.

2. Repetition

Allergies are cyclical and almost predictable if you’ve had them before. Normally, symptoms begin showing up around the same time every year, so if you experience those symptoms like clockwork each spring, then allergies are your best bet as opposed to a cold.

More: 10 Allergy Hacks to Help You Survive Spring

3. Symptoms

While colds and allergies share a lot of the same symptoms, like a runny nose, congestion, sore throat, sneezing, coughing and just general discomfort, there are some simple ways to tell them apart. Normally, allergy symptoms are not accompanied by bodily pains — allergist Dr. Janna Tuck tells SheKnows that severe allergies “may cause fatigue, but generally body aches or chills are viral and not allergic in nature.”

Normally, mucus color can tell you a lot. Dr. Arthur Wu, an endoscopic sinus and skull-base surgeon from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, clarifies that patients with fevers or other cold symptoms will have “more thick, discolored mucus (yellow, green, brown),” while patients with allergies usually have clear, thin mucus. So, if your symptoms seem a little more severe, it would be safe to say that a cold is a much more realistic possibility.

4. Unrelated pain

Similar to the addition of bodily symptoms, colds are not often associated with seemingly unrelated pains elsewhere on the body. Even though people are generally more averse to colds, allergies prove to have many more annoying features than many colds.

More: Surprising Health Benefits of Spring-Cleaning According to a Doctor

5. All in the eyes

Everyone knows what allergy eyes are like: red, itchy, watery and overall irritating. The frequency with which eye irritation occurs is a telltale sign of allergies vs. colds. Eye irritation during allergies is a given, while those types of symptoms don’t normally occur alongside colds. For instance, eye symptoms for colds are minimal unless it causes pink eye. If it’s recurrent, it may actually be the notorious allergy eyes rather than something as severe as pink eye.

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