How can you tell the difference between a cold or allergies?  They both have similar symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and wheezing.  Differentiating between these two very similar conditions can aide in proper treatment and decrease the occurrence of sinus and ear infections.

Common Cold

The common cold is caused by a virus. The symptoms of a cold consist of fever, body aches, runny nose, cough, sneeze, or sore throat. These symptoms usually come on gradually and last from several days up to ten days.  The common cold is contagious so hand washing is very important.  Treatments vary from rest, fluids, and time, to over the counter medication which may relieve certain symptoms.


Allergies are caused by the immune system responding after exposure to an allergen such as mold, pollen, cat/dog dander, or dust.  The symptoms consist of clear nasal drainage, nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and itchy/watery eyes.  These symptoms usually last as long as exposure to the allergen exist which could be anywhere from days to months.   Allergies are not contagious and symptoms may appear immediately upon exposure to the allergen.  Allergies may also have a seasonal pattern.  Treatment consists of avoidance, over the counter and prescription medications, and immunotherapy.  Immunotherapy (allergy shots) reduces sensitivity to allergens over a period of time.