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Those troublesome symptoms have started once again — your nose is running, your eyes feel like sandpaper, and your throat hurts. You feel terrible, but you can’t be totally sure why. Is it a common cold or a seasonal allergy?

Unfortunately, the two conditions can look very similar. But there are ways to tell the difference between allergies and a cold so that you can start feeling better.

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It Could Be an Allergy or a Cold

Though they look the same, colds and allergies result from two different irritants in your body.

  • Colds can come from viruses that attack your immune system. They may leave you feeling congested and fatigued.
  • Allergies, on the other hand, are the immune response your body has to a (usually harmless) trigger, like dust or pollen. For seasonal allergies, your immune response will often leave you with itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose.

While many people have seasonal allergies in the spring or fall, you can get a cold at any time of year.

Differences Between Allergies and a Cold

Because both allergies and colds affect your respiratory system, common symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, and coughing fits can be caused by allergies and colds.

Fortunately, there are a few key ways to tell the difference between allergies and colds. Besides the symptoms mentioned above, a cold is more likely to exhibit these symptoms:

  • Severe sore or aching throat
  • Fever
  • Head/body aches
  • Symptoms ease up after seven to 10 days

Cold symptoms that last longer than two weeks may indicate a more serious infection, so call your doctor.

“The average adult gets the common cold two to three times per year,” says Shane Eikenberry, MD, a primary care doctor at Greater Pittsburgh Medical Associates–UPMC. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you’re probably suffering from allergies instead of a cold:

  • Watery/itchy eyes
  • Rash
  • Symptoms that persist over several weeks

Treating Allergies vs. a Cold

There’s no cure for the common cold or allergies — antibiotics won’t help. That being said, you can ease your symptoms with over-the-counter cold or allergy medicines.

If you’re still not sure if you have allergies or a cold, or you’re wondering how to treat either, talk to your doctor or make an appointment at the UPMC Comprehensive Allergy-Immunology Clinic. They can help determine what your symptoms mean and get you on the right track to feeling better.

About Primary Care

A bond between doctor and patient can be extremely valuable, and that’s what you get with UPMC Primary Care. When you work with a primary care physician (PCP), you develop a lasting relationship. Your doctor will get to know you and your history and can plan your treatments accordingly. Our PCPs offer a variety of services, including preventive care and treatment for both urgent and chronic conditions. We also operate primary care walk-in centers where you can get treatment without an appointment.