Illustration by Bob Al-Greene

Cold and allergies share many symptoms, so it may be tricky to know what’s causing those sneezy, sleepy, stuffed up feelings. Luckily, there are some key signs that help determine a diagnosis to help get on the right road to recovery. Just remember: We're no doctors, so if something just doesn't feel right, see a medical professional to get everything sorted out.

One Of These Things Is Not Like the Other — Why It Matters

Sure, they may share some symptoms, but colds and allergies are like apples to oranges: While the is caused by a virus, allergy symptoms are immune system responses to allergens like pollen, dust, or Fluffy’s hair. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is — which unfortunately doesn’t help when symptoms first strike! A common cold usually lasts no longer than ten days, while allergies can pester people for months on end. Seasonal allergies usually bloom the same time every year (hellloo, spring!) while colds are more prominent in the winter and fall. No surprise there!

Still, each sickness has its main contenders to win worst symptom ever. With a cold, coughing and congestion are almost always evident, whereas of the mouth, eyes, and throat are easy indicators of allergies. The associated with each is particular, too. (Gross, we know. Just hold onto those tissues!) A yellowy mucus usually accompanies a cold, while people with allergies deal with thin, watery snot. Other symptoms unique to the common cold include muscle aches, fatigue, and fever, whereas an all day sneeze fest (gesundheit!) usually points to pollen.

Sneaky Sickness — Your Action Plan

Feeling under-the-weather? to help decipher between the two pesty illnesses:

The Common Cold:

  • Common: Cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, sneezin
  • Sometimes: Fatigue, aches/pains
  • Rarely: Fever, itchy eyes


  • Common: Itchy eyes, runny/stuffy nose, sneezing
  • Sometimes: Cough, sore throat, fatigue
  • Never: Fever, aches/pains

Figuring out what’s causing us to stay under the covers is only half the battle, though! To help , remember to frequently wash those hands and stay away from others who are sick — ! (Unlike allergies.) If it’s too late and the sniffles are already a-comin’, get and fluids, try an over-the-counter cold medicine, and yes — chicken noodle soup with a — could help Science, M., Johnstone, J., Roth, D.E., et al. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2012 May 7. [Epub ahead of print]. , staying away from allergens is the best bet for staying sneeze-free: Shut the windows and turn up the AC to avoid pollen coming into the house, and rinse off after dog-sitting . Zuraimi, M.S., Tham, K.W., Chew, F.T., et al. Department of Building, School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore, Singapore. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, 2011 Feb;22(1 Pt 2):e112-8! Try taking some over-the counter antihistamines and decongestants as well, and before heading outdoors Assanasen, P., Naclerio, R.M. University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, Clinicla Allergy and Immunology, 2002;17:101-39..

Remember: It’s always best to check with a doctor to figure out what’s causing those sniffles and sneezes, too. If a just won’t go away, a cold lasts longer than ten days, or if those allergy symptoms never seem to go away, . Getting better is key to continuing that half-marathon training plan and sipping a summer vodka-tonic — just not at once, please!