How To Tell If Your Cold Is Actually Allergies

Photographed by Megan Madden.
You're tired, you're itchy, and your nose is a snot waterfall — you know this is a cold. But the pollen in the air has you wondering — could this actually be your allergies rearing their sneezy heads? It can be surprisingly difficult to tell between the two — especially if this illness is just getting started. Luckily, there are some easy ways to figure out which one you can blame for these symptoms.
Colds and allergies often occur at the same time of year and cause many of the same symptoms, says David Stukus, MD, a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, "but there are a few clues that can very easily differentiate the two."
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First off, allergies don't cause a fever. So if your temp is elevated, that's a good sign that you're stuck with a cold. The other major marker, says Dr. Stukus, is how long your symptoms are sticking around. Allergy symptoms can leave you with watery eyes, a runny nose, and a sore, scratchy throat for weeks or months if left untreated, but a cold will usually clear up in a week.
The time of year when that nose starts to get runny is also a pretty good clue: "If your symptoms are just beginning in late April but tree pollen has been elevated for the last six weeks, it’s unlikely that you’re all of a sudden developing new allergy symptoms," he explains.
Also, take a second to check in with our old friend, Common Sense. If you and your three roommates are all feeling the same type of gross in the same week, or your BFF at work caught something a few days ago, chances are good that you've got the same thing — not allergies.
But Dr. Stukus says it's not impossible for you to develop new allergies as an adult — you can start getting them at any point in your life. So, if you're still not sure about your cold-or-allergies and how to take care of whatever it is, call your doctor or a board-certified allergist for a final answer.
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