min read
July 4, 2023

Cold or Allergies? Differences, Symptoms, and Treatments

Learn the key differences between allergies and the common cold, along with their symptoms and treatments in this comprehensive guide.

Lanby Team
Table of contents
About The Lanby

A primary care membership for patients who want more. Primary Care. Nutrition. Wellness. All under one roof.

join the club
Share this article

When you're sniffling, sneezing, and feeling under the weather, it can be challenging to determine whether you're experiencing a common cold or allergies. While both conditions share some similar symptoms, they have different causes and require distinct treatments. 

Let’s explore the differences between allergies and colds, outline their respective symptoms, and talk about appropriate treatments for each. By understanding these distinctions, you can better manage your symptoms and seek the right medical guidance when needed.

What are allergies?

Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to harmless substances that are perceived as threats. When a person with allergies comes into contact with an allergen, their immune system produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). This antibody triggers the release of chemicals, such as histamines, that cause inflammation and lead to allergy symptoms.

Allergies affect millions of people worldwide. Understanding allergies, their causes, and the symptoms they produce is crucial for effective management and relief. So, let's explore what allergies are and delve into the common symptoms associated with allergic reactions.

Common symptoms of allergies

Allergies can manifest in various ways, depending on the allergen and the individual's immune response. Here are some common symptoms experienced during allergic reactions:


Sneezing is triggered by the irritation of the nasal passages. It helps expel allergens from the nose.

Runny or stuffy nose

 Allergies often result in increased mucus production leading to  runny or stuffy nose that can potentially result in a sinus infection. This can cause congestion, difficulty breathing through the nose, and a decreased sense of smell.

Watery and itchy eyes

Allergic reactions can cause the eyes to become watery, red, and itchy. This symptom, known as allergic conjunctivitis, is the result of the release of histamine and other chemicals.

Coughing and wheezing

Allergies can irritate the respiratory system, leading to coughing and wheezing. These symptoms are more common in people with allergic asthma.

Skin reactions

Skin reactions such as hives (itchy, raised, red welts on the skin) and eczema (dry, itchy, inflamed patches) can occur as a result of allergic responses.

Fatigue and malaise

Allergic reactions can leave you feeling tired and drained. This can be attributed to the body's immune response and the inflammation caused by allergens.


Some people experience headaches as a symptom of allergies, often due to sinus congestion and pressure.

Sore throat

Post-nasal drip, a common allergy symptom, can cause throat irritation, resulting in a sore throat.

It's important to note that allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe. In some cases, severe allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis, can occur, which require immediate medical attention. These reactions may involve swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, and a drop in blood pressure.

Gratis Fotos de stock gratuitas de coronavirus, cuarentena, cubierta Foto de stock

Natural remedies for allergies

If you suspect that you have allergies, it is essential to consult with your care team for an accurate diagnosis. They may perform tests such as skin prick tests or blood tests to identify your allergy triggers. 

Once you know your allergens, the key to managing allergies is to minimize exposure to them. Here are some strategies for at-home allergy management:

  • Avoidance: Limit your exposure to allergens like pollen, house dust mites, mold, pet dander, etc. For example, if you're allergic to pollen, avoid spending extended periods outdoors on high pollen count days.
  • Allergen-proof your home: Implementing measures such as using allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers, regularly cleaning carpets and upholstery, and minimizing indoor humidity can help reduce allergen exposure at home. You can also use an air purifier to relieve dust and debris from the air. 
  • Rinse sinuses: Nasal irrigation with a saline solution can help flush out allergens and relieve nasal congestion.
  • Fish oil: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have anti-inflammatory properties and may provide some relief from allergy symptoms. Consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.
  • Probiotics: Some studies suggest that probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria, may help modulate the immune response and reduce allergy symptoms. However, more research is needed to establish their effectiveness.

Treatments for allergies

For a comprehensive management of allergies, think about consulting with an allergist or immunologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergic conditions. They can provide personalized guidance and develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Here are some allergy medications they may suggest:

  • Antihistamines: These medications block the release of histamines, which are responsible for allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and runny nose. Antihistamines are available over-the-counter or in prescription strength.
  • Decongestants: Decongestant nasal steroid sprays or oral decongestants can help reduce nasal congestion caused by allergies. However, prolonged use of nasal sprays can lead to rebound congestion and other side effects, so they should be used only as directed.
  • Nasal corticosteroids: Prescription nasal corticosteroid sprays can effectively reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, relieving congestion and other allergy symptoms.
  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy): In cases of severe allergies, immunotherapy may be recommended. This treatment involves regular injections of small amounts of allergens to desensitize the immune system over time.

Minimizing exposure to allergens, using appropriate medications, and considering immunotherapy are key approaches to managing allergies. If you suspect you have allergies, consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. 

By taking proactive steps to manage allergies, you can significantly improve your quality of life and reduce the impact of allergic symptoms.

What is a common cold?

The common cold is a viral infection that primarily affects the upper respiratory system, including the nose and throat. The common cold virus is highly contagious and spreads easily through respiratory droplets, often transmitted via coughing, sneezing, or direct contact with infected surfaces. Although there are over 200 different viruses that can cause the common cold, the rhinovirus is the most prevalent culprit.

Gratis Fotos de stock gratuitas de coronavirus, covid-19, descansando Foto de stock

Symptoms of a common cold

The symptoms of a common cold typically manifest within one to three days after exposure to the virus. While symptoms can vary from person to person, the most common ones include:

Runny or stuffy nose

Increased nasal discharge is a hallmark symptom of a cold, often accompanied by congestion and difficulty breathing through the nose.


Frequent sneezing occurs as the body attempts to expel the virus.

Sore throat

Irritation or pain in the throat is common and may worsen with swallowing.


A dry or productive cough may develop as the cold progresses.


Generalized tiredness and a lack of energy are often present.

Mild headache 

A headache may accompany the other symptoms, typically due to nasal congestion.

Low-grade fever 

Some people may experience a slight elevation in body temperature, although it is not a universal symptom.

Natural remedies for a common cold

While there is no cure for the common cold, various home remedies can help alleviate symptoms and promote recovery. Here are some effective options:

  • Rest: Adequate rest allows the body to direct its energy towards fighting the infection and aids in a speedier recovery.
  • Hydration: Drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, herbal teas, and bone broths (we love Fond), helps soothe the throat, keeps the body hydrated, and assists in loosening nasal congestion. Aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water for optimal hydration.
  • Warm saline gargles: Rinsing the throat with a warm saline solution (a mixture of salt and water) can provide temporary relief for a sore throat.
  • Nasal irrigation: Using a saline nasal spray or a neti pot helps flush out mucus and clears nasal passages, relieving congestion.
  • Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam from a hot shower or a bowl of hot water can help alleviate nasal congestion and ease breathing.
  • Honey and herbal remedies: Honey mixed with warm water or herbal teas with ingredients like ginger, chamomile, or echinacea can provide soothing relief for sore throat and cough.
  • Prevention: Practicing good hand hygiene, such as frequent handwashing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, can help reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the common cold. Avoiding close contact with infected individuals and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, can also boost the immune system and lower your susceptibility to viral infections.

Treatment options for a common cold

Although the common cold typically resolves on its own within a week, certain treatment options can help manage symptoms and prevent complications:

Over-the-counter medications

Non-prescription decongestants, cough suppressants, and pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be used to relieve symptoms such as body aches. However, it's important to read labels carefully, follow dosage instructions, and consult a healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.

Antiviral medications

In some cases, antiviral medications may be prescribed by a healthcare professional, particularly for individuals with weakened immune systems or those at high risk of complications.

Seek medical advice

If symptoms persist or worsen, or if there are concerns about complications, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance, evaluate the severity of the symptoms, and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Remember to consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance, especially if symptoms persist or worsen. Stay healthy, practice good hygiene, and take care of yourself to minimize the impact of the common cold on your daily life.

Gratis Fotos de stock gratuitas de casa, enfermo, escritorio Foto de stock

Differences between allergies and colds

While the symptoms of allergies and colds can overlap, there are key differences between the two.

  • Causes: Colds are caused by viral infections, whereas allergies result from an immune system response to allergens.
  • Contagiousness: Colds are contagious, and they can be transmitted from person to person. Allergies are not contagious.
  • Duration: Colds typically last for about a week, while allergy symptoms can persist for an extended period as long as there is continued exposure to the allergen.

If you're unsure whether you're dealing with allergies or a cold, it's best to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.


Distinguishing between allergies and colds is crucial for proper treatment and managing symptoms. While both conditions share some similarities, understanding the differences in their causes, contagiousness, duration, and treatments is essential. If you're uncertain about your symptoms, seek medical advice to obtain an accurate diagnosis and guidance for effective treatment. Remember to prioritize rest, hydration, and self-care when dealing with a common cold, and take appropriate measures to minimize exposure to allergens if you have allergies. By being informed and proactive, you can navigate these conditions more effectively and maintain your well-being.

To prevent allergies or manage cold symptoms effectively, it's essential to have regular appointments with your doctor. At The Lanby, we provide expert medical guidance and lifestyle tips. Don't miss this opportunity to take control of your health. Visit our website and book your free consult today.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Mayo Clinic - Allergies

CDC - Common Colds

Ready to get well, better?

If you're curious to learn more about The Lanby, book a free consult call and we'll chat about how The Lanby can be your personalized long term health and wellness partner.

The Lanby Editorial Team