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HomeHealthHow To Tell If Runny Nose Is Allergies Or Cold

How To Tell If Runny Nose Is Allergies Or Cold

Allergies Follow A Pattern And Symptoms Tend To Stick Around Longer

If you have allergies, your symptoms will flare up at certain times throughout the year when the allergens youre sensitive to are present. For example, if you have a tree pollen allergy, your symptoms will first appear in the early spring.

This also means that your symptoms can last for several weeks until that particular allergy season has ended. To put that into perspective, colds usually only last about a week.

Cold viruses are present all year, so you can catch one at any time. However, the winter cold season is when getting sick is more likely.

Cold Vs Allergy In Children: How To Tell The Difference

Colds are infections of the upper respiratory tract . They are caused by several different viruses. They are spread by:

  • Touching a person with a cold

  • Touching an object that someone with a cold has touched

  • Breathing the virus in the air after someone with a cold has coughed or sneezed into the air

Seasonal allergies are caused by the immune system reacting to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds as if it were harmful to the body. This reaction causes symptoms that can seem like a cold. Allergies often run in families. Seasonal allergies occur at the same time each year. If your child has allergy symptoms all year, they may be allergic to things in the home. These can include dust mites, animals, mold, and cockroaches.

The table below is a guide to symptoms. See your child’s healthcare provider for a diagnosis.


How Can You Help Prevent Allergic Nasal Congestion Or Hay Fever

Once you know the allergen thats triggering your symptoms, its best to avoid contact with them. Some helpful tips may include:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your nose
  • Wash your bedding in hot water and detergent to reduce allergens
  • Use dust-mite proof covers for pillows, comforters, duvets, mattresses, and box springs
  • Keeping windows closed during high pollen and mold seasons
  • Use vacuum filters to avoid allergens while vacuuming

Is My Runny Nose From The Flu

A runny nose due to the flu will be accompanied with a sore throat and fever. These symptoms can overlap with COVID-19, and it can be very hard to distinguish between the two without proper testing. The flu can be distinguished from COVID-19 by these key differences: 

  • Flu-like symptoms appear suddenly- you may feel very sick one morning out of nowhere 
  • Signs of shortness of breath is more closely associated with COVID-19 as opposed to the flu
  • If you are experiencing a cough- determine if it is a wet cough or if it is a dry cough. COVID-19 is more closely associated with a dry cough

Seasonal Allergies Follow A Schedule

How to Tell If Your Child Has Allergies  or a Cold ...

If you have seasonal allergies, you can expect symptoms to appear around the same time each year and last for several weeks. For example, if youre allergic to tree pollen, you can expect a flare-up in the late winter or early spring that will last through early summer.

COVID-19 symptom onset can occur anytime, and symptoms can change as time goes on.

Treating The Common Cold

Your body will get rid of the cold virus over time. Since only kill bacteria, they wont work on the viruses that cause colds. Still, there are medications that can help relieve your symptoms while a cold runs its course.

Cold remedies include:

  • pain relievers, such as or

Cough syrups and OTC medications arent recommended for children under 4 years old, while nasal sprays arent recommended for children under age 6.

Ask your doctor before taking any OTC cold medication, especially if you also take prescription medications, have any existing health conditions, or are pregnant.

Dont use cold medications for a long period of time. Using them for extended periods can cause side effects such as rebound congestion.

You can also try home treatments to relieve a cold, such as:

  • drinking more fluids like water, juice, and herbal tea
  • loratadine-pseudoephedrine

Decongestants come in pills and nasal sprays. However, nasal decongestants such as can make your congestion worse if you use them for more than three days in a row.

Do You Have A Cold The Flu Or Allergies

The above table details the symptom differences between all three conditions.

The common symptoms of a cold, flu and allergies are a stuffy or a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, a cough, a headache, or even fatigue. Two differing symptoms are a fever or aches/pain, these would not be caused by allergies, but could be due to a cold or the flu. Symptoms of the flu are often more severe than a cold.

While the symptoms are similar, the origin of the conditions are different. A cold and the flu are both caused by different viruses, whereas allergies are caused by your immune system reacting to a trigger. Common inhalant allergy triggers are pollen, dust, mold, pet dander.

See related: Is it a cold? Or is it Allergies?

What Are Colds And Allergies

They have different causes. You get a cold when a tiny living thing called a virus gets into your body. There are hundreds of different types that can get you sick.

Once a cold virus gets inside you, your immune system, the body’s defense against germs, launches a counter-attack. It’s this response that brings on the classic symptoms like a or stuffed up nose.

The viruses that cause colds are contagious. You can pick them up when someone who’s infected sneezes, , or shakes hands with you. After a couple of weeks, at the most, your immune system fights off the illness and you should stop having symptoms.

It’s a different story with . They’re caused by an overactive immune system. For some reason, your body mistakes harmless things, such as dust or , for germs and mounts an attack on them.

When that happens, your body releases chemicals such as , just as it does when fighting a cold. This can cause a swelling in the passageways of your nose, and you’ll start and .

Unlike , aren’t contagious, though some people may inherit a tendency to get them.

Know Your Paths To Care

Were here to help you get better quickly, with tools and information for self-care and convenient options for visits or advice when you need it. Easy ways to get help for your cold or allergy symptoms include:

  • Consulting Nurse Service: Call a nurse, who will assess your symptoms and recommend treatments or other next steps. Available 24/7.
  • Online visit: Complete a questionnaire about your symptoms. A clinician will provide a diagnosis, treatment plan and, if needed, a prescription without a trip to your doctors office.
  • CareClinic by Kaiser Permanente at Bartell Drugs:Walk in for care at 15 Puget Sound Bartell Drugs locations. Open 7 days a week with evening and weekend hours.

A Wet Hacking Cough Screams Cold

While a cough is common for both allergy flares and colds, the type of cough for each is different. A cold cough is wet and hacking, and often produces mucus or phlegm that gets progressively thicker, often taking on a green or yellow tinge.

Allergy-related coughs usually feel like you have a tickle in your throat. Thats because allergens often irritate the lining of your nose, which triggers your nasal passages to create a watery mucus. This can drip out of your nose and down the back of your throat, creating that tickling sensation.

Runny Nose: Seasonal Allergies Or Common Cold

Spring is in full swing and with this time of the year comes the increase in pollen which can contribute to those annoying seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies often resemble the symptoms of a common cold, so how can you tell if you have seasonal allergies or a cold? Look no further than your nose. Your nose is the best way to determine if you have developed seasonal allergies. When your nose is irritated by allergens, a fairly constant flow of clear and thin mucous is produced, which is known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever. It is possible to differentiate between allergic rhinitis and the common cold by how long the sniffles last. While the common cold usually will stay present for about a week to 10 days, allergic rhinitis can span for several weeks or months. Depending on what your seasonal allergies areattributed to affects how long your personal allergy season may last. Aside from a constant runny nose, many people experience additional symptoms. Here is a list of additional symptoms that you may experience with seasonal allergies:

·       Temporary loss of smell due to the constant runny nose

·       Postnasal drip with coughing

·       Itchy, runny and burning eyes

·       Runny or stuffy nose

·       Dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow to the sinuses

In addition, some people with allergies can develop asthma, which may cause coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with seasonal allergies:

·       Clean bed linen frequently

A Pediatrician Shares Eight Ways To Tell The Difference Between A Cold And Allergies

If your child seems to constantly have a runny nose, cough or congestion, you are not alone.

“It’s not unusual for kids to get six to eight colds per year, lasting from 10-14 days,” explains Michael Lee, M.D., a pediatrician with Children’s Health. “Additionally, seasonal allergies have become more prevalent.”

So how can parents tell if it’s a cold or allergies? Dr. Lee explains the difference between causes and symptoms in kids.

Related podcast

Learn more about how to help a child with seasonal allergies by listening to the Children’s Health Checkup podcast.

What Are Allergies

People with allergy symptoms  such as the runny nose of ...

occur when your immune system has an adverse reaction to certain substances. When youre exposed to an allergy trigger, known as an allergen, your immune system releases chemicals called histamines. This release of histamines is what causes allergy symptoms.

Allergies and colds share some common symptoms, such as:

Allergies are more likely to cause:

  • itchy eyes
  • skin rashes, such as eczema or hives

What Is A Cold

You catch a cold when a cold virus makes its way into your respiratory tract and your immune system immune system The bodys defense system that protects us against infections and foreign substances. attacks it. The immune system cant always tell the difference between allergies vs. a cold, which is why symptoms are similar. Colds are contagious.

What If You Have A Runny Nose And Am Concerned About Covid

It can be confusing when youre trying to determine the source of your runny nose. Seek advice from your local pharmacist or other healthcare providers to determine the best way to treat your runny nose. The best way to determine if your symptoms are due to COVID-19 is to get tested. As stated above- check out your local Walgreens or CVS to see if drive-thru testing is available for you, or check this out and search for testing sites in your state. 

You Notice A Seasonal Pattern

If youre the type of person who swears they get the same cold every March, it might be time to reconsider. If you notice its seasonal like clockwork, and every spring or fall you get these symptoms, it might be allergy-related, Dr. Parikh says.

That holds true even if your seasonal symptoms occur earlier than you might think of as allergy season, Dr. Rosenstreich says. In the Northeast, for example, most people are not aware of the fact that the trees begin to pollinate even when theres still snow on the ground. Depending on the weather, people can have allergy symptoms in February.


Clinical Contributors To This Story

Parneet Grewal, M.D. contributes to topics such as Family Medicine.

You might expect to have a scratchy throat and a runny nose in the dead of winter, but on a beautiful summers day, these symptoms seem out of place . It is possible to experience the common cold during the warm-weather months, but the symptoms may actually be a sign that you have allergies, not a cold. How can you tell the difference when youre feeling lousy?

Although colds and allergies have some overlapping symptoms, there are reliable ways to tell them apart, including the presence or absence of certain symptoms and the duration of your discomfort, says Parneet Grewal, M.D., a family medicine specialist with Hackensack Meridian Medical Group.

Summer colds can be different

Most people who get colds in the winter are infected by common viruses known as rhinoviruses, which are most active during the chillier months. Youre less likely to be exposed to, or become ill from, rhinoviruses when its warm out.

Instead, a different type of virus causes colds more often during the warmer months: Enteroviruses. Theyre less common than rhinoviruses overall, but theyre more prevalent during the summer.

Seasonal allergies can pop up during the summer

Many people with seasonal allergies experience discomfort during the springtime, when trees pollinate. But some people are allergic to grass or ragweed, which can cause allergy symptoms well into the summer.

COVID-19 symptoms mimic some cold and allergy symptoms

Treating Seasonal Allergies In Children

  • Minimize symptoms at home by washing clothes after being outside, vacuuming often and using air filters and purifiers.
  • Try a non-sedating oral antihistamine, such as Zyrtec or Claritin. Your child should get relief within a day or two.
  • If the antihistamine helps, but not much, add a nasal steroid such as over-the-counter Flonase which you spray into the nose. Sometimes you need both antihistamine and nasal spray to control allergies.
  • You can also try nasal spray only. If your child gets relief, skip the oral antihistamine.

When Did You Begin To Feel Unwell

If you remember being around someone who had an upper respiratory infection a few days before you started feeling ill, you may have caught a viral infection. Viruses are spread by contact with sneezes, coughs, and contaminated surfaces such as door handles. Allergies, on the other hand, can begin immediately after coming in contact with triggers such as pollen. If you think you might be experiencing a seasonal allergy, check the pollen count in your area; if levels are high, allergies may be the culprit.

Symptoms Of A Cold Or Allergies Also Include:

A cold or seasonal allergies will have different symptoms than coronavirus. Symptoms that will tell you its likely a cold or allergies, and not a case of COVID-19 include:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing 

Our CEO and Co-Founder, Dr. Brett Belchetz, joined Breakfast Television Toronto to talk about the differences between these illnesses that you should look out for. Check out the video below to see what he had to say.


While the above are good guidelines, it bears repeating that symptoms and risks may vary from person to person, so you should always check with a doctor if youre concerned. If you prefer not to travel to a doctors office or waiting room at this time, our doctors are online 24/7 through your phone or computer to discuss your symptoms and help you determine if you require medical attention. 

Are You Treating Multiple Symptoms

Allergies or Common Colds: What are the Differences ...

For a cold, get extra rest and drink plenty of fluids, including water, tea, or soup with lots of broth. For allergies, it can help to shower and change your clothes often because allergens cling to skin, hair, and clothing. For both colds and allergies, over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, and pain relievers may help you feel better, although they wont make a cold go away any faster. And no matter what ails you, avoid medications that treat multiple symptoms, especially if you dont have some of the symptoms the medication is meant to treat.

If home treatments arent working and you still dont feel well, connect with our Consulting Nurse Service or if you are in the Seattle area, visit a CareClinic by Kaiser Permanente at Bartell Drugs.

Can A Runny Nose Be A Symptom Of Something Other Than Covid

A runny nose is not just a coronavirus symptom, so if you have a runny nose it could be because of a variety of other conditions like the common cold, the flu, or allergies. If you want to distinguish if your runny nose is due to COVID-19 or due to the common cold, the flu, or allergies, we have some tips for you. 

Talk With A Doctor Or Clinician To Create A Personalized Treatment Plan

If you arent sure if its a cold or allergies, or if your symptoms are severe or long-lasting, its best to connect with a care provider to get an official diagnosis and treatment plan.

If your allergy symptoms are left untreated, you could become more prone to getting sinus infections or other upper respiratory infections, or may lead to poor asthma control.

Also, a common cold can turn severe. So, if your cold has had you laid up longer than a day or two, get in touch with your doctor.

You have a couple options:

Make an appointment for face-to-face care from a primary care doctor or clinician. Whether you choose a video visit or in-person appointment, your doctor will listen to your symptoms, answer questions and work with you to create a tailored treatment plan including connecting you with an or an if needed.

Schedule an appointment

Start a virtual visit anytime, anyplace through Virtuwell. With Virtuwell, no appointment is necessary and treatment is available 24/7. Getting started is easy. Well ask you a few questions, and youll get your diagnosis and treatment plan from a board-certified nurse practitioner. Each visit is just $59 or less, depending on your insurance.

Your Eyes Are Itchy And Watery

While you might notice some or discomfort around your eyes when youre sick with a cold, its more likely that allergies are causing eye symptoms like watering and itching, Dr. Rosenstreich says.

Your nose and throat might feel itchy with a cold, says Dr. Metcalfe, but a cold usually doesnt affect the eyes. Allergies may also cause some swelling around the eyes, adds Dr. Parikh.

RELATED: 9 Reasons Your Eyes Are So Wateryand What to Do About It

Can I Prevent Myself From Getting Allergy Symptoms

In terms of preventing allergic reactions, the first step is to find out what youre allergic to. Doctors who specialize in allergy and immunology can help patients discover what might be causing their specific allergies with skin, patch, and blood tests. For example, sometimes its difficult to know if your allergy trigger is pollen, pets, mold spores, or a combination of different triggers. Once you have an understanding of your allergy trigger, its best to avoid contact with them as much as possible. Depending on the category of allergy that you have, you may want to try the following:

What Is The Best Allergy Medicine To Treat My Runny Nose

Allergy medications can help by drying up the mucus that is causing your runny nose. There is not one best medication to treat a runny nose because some medications may work better for others. Some include: 

  • Levocetirizine
  • Fexofenadine
  • Loratadine

Although nasal sprays are more effective for nasal congestion, they can also help treat runny noses (see Curist Allergy Nasal Spray.

If Antihistamines Work It’s Probably An Allergy

For children over age 1 year, you can use an antihistamine to help determine whether they have colds or allergies. “Try a non-sedating antihistamine. If your child gets no relief within the next day or two, it’s probably a cold virus,” explains Dr. Lee. “However, if symptoms clear up quickly with the antihistamine, your child probably suffers from seasonal allergy symptoms.”

Understanding Allergic Nasal Congestion Or Hay Fever

Runny nose, stuffy nose/nasal congestion, itchy nose and/or sneezing can all be symptoms of allergies. Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, refers to allergic reactions in the nose. Despite referring to hay, it may not be triggered by hay, and will not cause a fever. Other symptoms may include: itchy mouth/eyes/throat, puffy and swollen eyelids, and cough.

What Are Your Symptoms

How to tell allergies vs. cold in 2020

Both allergies and colds may cause a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, a cough, and fatigue. Itchy eyes, post-nasal drip, and dark circles under your eyes are more common with allergies. Symptoms more commonly caused by a virus include sore throat, cloudy or discolored nasal discharge, fever, and general aches and pains.

What Causes Allergic Nasal Congestion Or Hay Fever

Not everyone who suffers from runny nose, stuffy nose, itchy nose, and/or sneezing caused by allergic rhinitis will have the same triggers. Some may be triggered from outdoor seasonal allergies such as tree or grass pollen that may only occur during certain seasons, while others may suffer from indoor allergens such as mold, dust mites, and animal dander. See Types of Allergies for more information.

Diagnosing Colds And Allergies

You dont need to see your doctor for a cold, but if you do make an appointment, your symptoms will likely be enough for them to confirm your diagnosis.

If your doctor thinks you might have a bacterial infection such as strep throat or , you might need other tests such as a throat culture or chest X-ray.

For allergies, you may need to see a primary care doctor, an ear-nose-throat doctor, or an allergist. The doctor will first ask about your symptoms. Severe or life-threatening allergic reactions often require the care of an allergy specialist.

A variety of can be used to diagnose allergies. A skin test can be used to determine your allergy triggers. Sometimes primary doctors or allergy specialists may also use blood tests to diagnose allergies depending on your age and other health conditions.

Cold Flu Allergies Or Covid

With COVID-19 hitting at both the end of cold and flu season and the start of allergy season, it can be difficult to know what your symptoms are telling you. While theres a lot we dont yet know about COVID-19, there are key symptoms to check for, so lets talk about which symptoms you should look out for and which ones indicate a cold, the flu, or allergies. 

If Your Child Is Under Age 1 It’s Likely A Cold

It is unusual for a child under 1 year old to be diagnosed with seasonal allergies. “With allergies, you typically must be exposed to things a number of times to get an allergic response,” explains Dr. Lee. “It’s not that a baby can’t have an allergic reaction to something during the first year of life, but typical seasonal allergies usually involve older kids.”

Start With Some Home Remedies For Cold And Allergy Symptoms

When you start feeling icky, some simple home remedies can provide temporary relief. For starters, try to get more rest. Both allergies and colds can cause tiredness, so listen to your body and take it easy.

Also, take advantage of saltwater to soothe irritated nasal passages and scratchy or sore throats.

For your nose, use a neti pot. A neti pot can be picked up at any local drugstore or online, and typically comes with packets to mix with warm, distilled water to create a saltwater solution to pour through your nasal passages.

For your throat, simply mix a quarter or half teaspoon of table salt into an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Take a sip and gargle for a few seconds like you would with mouthwash. Then spit and repeat until the solution is gone. You can do this a couple times a day.

Concerned It Could Be Covid

If you think you have COVID-19, there are a couple steps you should take to make sure you get the right care and keep others safe.

  • Stay home COVID-19 is very contagious. So if youre noticing COVID-19 symptoms, stay home and try to separate yourself from other members of your household to help prevent the disease from spreading.
  • Get care and treatment from home Our virtual care options make it safe and easy for you to get the right treatment. You can choose a video visit with a doctor, or a Virtuwell visit with a certified nurse practitioner. If COVID-19 is suspected, your doctor or nurse practitioner will help you find a COVID-19 testing location near you. If your symptoms point to a different condition, youll receive a custom treatment plan.
  • Get tested Getting tested is the only way to know for sure if you have COVID-19. People often speak with a doctor or nurse practitioner before getting tested, but its not a requirement. You can schedule your own COVID-19 test at one of our convenient drive-up sites.

Choose your care option


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