Colds and allergies often present with similar symptoms, which can make it hard to determine why someone is feeling unwell. There are some key differences between allergy symptoms and cold symptoms which can help people narrow down the cause of ill health more quickly, and receive the most appropriate treatment. In either case, if someone develops a very high fever or difficulty breathing, he or she should be taken to a hospital for medical treatment to address the situation.
In the case of a cold, symptoms emerge within three days of exposure. An itchy, tight feeling in the back of the nose is common, along with sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and sometimes watery eyes. Many people also feel fatigued or listless, and they can develop a low-grade fever. Within four days to a week, the symptoms will usually resolve themselves, although drinking lots of fluids and staying warm can help patients recover more quickly. If cold symptoms last more than a week, this can be an indicator that the patient is experiencing more serious issues such as seasonal allergies.
Allergy symptoms emerge within minutes to hours of exposure, and they will not go away until the allergen and the patient are separated. Depending on the type of allergic reaction occurring, people can experience a range of symptoms. Anaphylaxis and hives, two symptoms of severe allergies, are usually not confused with the common cold, but seasonal allergies or dust allergies can seem like a cold at first.
Seasonal allergy symptoms include a runny and itchy nose, watery eyes, some breathing obstruction, sneezing, coughing, and a sense of fatigue. Allergy symptoms do not usually include fever, which can distinguish them from a cold. Because seasonal allergies are caused by the environment, the symptoms will persist for weeks or months, and in the case of allergies to mold, dust, and substances inside a house, the symptoms will become chronic until the situation is addressed.
If people develop these symptoms with the change of the seasons, a move to a new home or workplace, or another change in their environment, they are probably allergy symptoms. A doctor can help the patient narrow down the cause of the allergies and determine the best treatment plan to take. When these symptoms emerge during the winter, or shortly after attending a large event with a lot of people, they are more probably cold symptoms, in which case they will resolve on their own.