Is it a Cold or Just Allergies? How Do You Know the Difference?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Yesterday, my co-worker woke up with a full-on case of the sniffles. Red eyes, a runny nose, and a sore throat plagued her all day. Today my throat is scratchy and my head hurts.
She says hers is allergies. I'm worried mine is a cold.
This time a year, how are you supposed to tell?
Easy! I did a bit of research on the Internet, consulted some people in the know, and voilà!

Keep this chart handy for the next time you're feeling under the weather.

As it turns out, I'm likely suffering from allergies as well. Do you have any home remedies for dealing with a cold or allergies?

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  • 53
    I have to say that I every year at about this time I get the sniffles and I know it is allergies and then the stuffy nose will turn into a sinus infection. I have learned that when I start to feel the sniffles starting to start using Mucinex to help with drying the nose.

    Everyone at work tries to tell me it is a cold and I need to see the doctor but I know my symptoms enough to what it is.

    I don't have any home remedies besides just exercising more. I try to sweat the cold out of me. - 10/18/2010   4:03:07 PM
  • TIZHR48
    Thanks, this is a keeper. I was sure to save it to my favs. - 9/2/2009   9:54:55 PM
  • 51
    I have bad year-round allergies, and even though I take a daily pill they can still bother me. Sometimes I don't know if it's a cold or allergies until they either go away in a day or two (allergies) or I get a cough (cold). :P I also will sometimes get a fever with my allergies because my immune system is so whacked out. (This is not a new symptom for me - I've had it my entire life.)
    - 9/2/2009   5:22:20 PM
  • REBECCA3789
    I always got a 'cold' when I wore my warm winter coat- which, of course, was in winter when we tend to get colds. It turns out I am allergic to the feathers in my coat!! But then I get hayfever in the spring & summer so its just all year round!!
    I can't stomach Echinacea but homemade chicken soups work wonders!! - 3/31/2009   11:35:23 AM
    Just a warning about Echinecia-goldenseal- if you have an autoimmune disease or Multiple Sclerosis, DO NOT TAKE this. It can make it worse. I have auto immune ear disease and I tried it once and I had a horrible rash from it.

    Usually, like someone said, the wasabi mustard that comes with sushi will open up my clogged (and infected) sinuses. I have a tube of it in my fridge. Also, drink a lot of fluids to thin mucous. - 1/8/2009   7:54:05 PM
    I consume 1 tsp of Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) 3 times a day in 1/2 c. of grape juice. The ACV is the key factor here. It is recommended that you take up to 2 TBS per day.

    I use to take a minimum of one Alavert D12 every day but since I began taking the ACV last January, I have only taken the Alavert approximately 10 times and that's because I knew I would be near hay, animal dander, heavy dust, etc.

    The ACV is worth a try and it's very inexpensive. - 12/27/2008   6:14:15 PM
    I searched for this blog as soon as I read that we can now save blogs as favorites! - 11/27/2008   4:05:40 AM
    As a long time allergy sufferer, I know what you're going through. I'm still trying to find an effective remedy, but I wanted to say that if you have colored mucus, it could be a cold but it could also be a good indicator that there is an infection, like a sinus infection, in which case you should definitely see a doctor. - 10/31/2008   10:15:30 AM
  • 45
    Well, this is helpful to know. Last saturday my son was down with a cold and I decided to make him some chicken noodle soup adding cayenne pepper. this did the trick for him and then on Monday I came down with a cold. Lets not forget to use the disinffectant or bleach. - 10/30/2008   12:05:03 PM
    Alert for migraine sufferers: lemon and/or honey can trigger a migraine, so avoid any lemon-flavoured cold and flu remedies. I learned the hard way - I would take lemon NeoCitran in the past, and the headache that resulted was always worse than the cold or flu.

    I can get a flu shot either free in the community (the province of Ontario provides free flu shots every year) or free at work. I always take advantage of it.

    - 10/29/2008   10:50:12 PM
  • 43
    I agree that if the mucous is not clear, there's something more than allergies going on. It might be a little bacterial sinus or throat infection. A normal mucous reaction to allergens is clear mucous production. - 10/29/2008   9:04:04 PM
  • 42
    We do the Vicks thing like my Mom did for the seven of us. We NEVER Doctored because there was no money for it. I rarely have a cold now that I take weekly allergy shots. Our Vicks was rubbed into the chest and on the neck. - 10/29/2008   8:20:16 PM
  • 41
    I have chronic allergies, and I can say with certainly that mucus with allergies is not always clear. :-p At least, mine isn't. And yes, I'm absolutely certain that some of those times when it's been not clear, I have just been suffering from allergies. - 10/29/2008   5:35:15 PM
  • 40
    If you suffer from Allergies the best thing you could do is eat your local honey. As the bees from your area are feeding off of a lot of the things that can cause your allergies to flare up it naturally builds up your own body defenses.
    For a cold, when you start to feel like your getting something take Echinecea, and EmergenC is good also. - 10/29/2008   5:18:39 PM
  • 39
    Coconut oil?? Would that work with just regular snoring?? Not due to colds or allergies? - 10/29/2008   4:02:53 PM
    Thanks for the helpful chart! - 10/29/2008   2:53:18 PM
  • 37
    DH and I discovered a great help for allergies. We are big fans of coconut oil for a lot of things, for both cooking and topical healing applications; this is one we use daily. We both suffer from allergy related nasal congestion. In my case, it can cause some pretty loud heavy breathing (snoring? well, maybe...) while I sleep. SO... before we go to bed each night we each put just a tiny dab of coconut oil in each nostril. It works really well to lubricate the passages. DH says I no longer breathe loudly/snore, and we both get a great night's rest! It works during the day, too; just don't use too much.

    The best thing? It's ALL NATURAL!!! - 10/29/2008   2:29:04 PM
  • 36
    I have chronic allergies, sometimes miserably, and sometimes accompanied with sinus and ear pain and a sore throat.

    I know I have a cold when I just plain feel like crap. My congestion is usually much worse with a cold, and the throat pain is worse. Sometimes I get a fever, sometimes not.

    I get a flu shot every year, in November (hey, it's time again!). With my chronic asthma and allergy problems, the last thing I need is flu complications.

    I've never worked up the nerve to try a Neti pot, but I do use plain saline nasal spray, which helps. There are a number of brands of OTC allergy eye drops, which I use every morning. I've tried a number of new, expensive antihistamines, but nothing works any better than Benadryl taken at bedtime. - 10/29/2008   1:38:37 PM
    How about a column for flu?
    As for alcohol, I am very suspicious when someone who has been a heavy drinker in the past says they are taking hot toddies for their cold and "feel sooooo goooood!" - 10/29/2008   11:28:24 AM
  • 34
    For itchy eyes, take 1/4 of a Benadryl tablet & ask your doctor for drops called Panatol.
    I disagree that you don't have a fever with allergies; I know mine are worse and I'm heading for throat problems when I run a low grade fever; so it's off to the doctor for a shot.

    Anne2002 - 10/29/2008   10:59:25 AM
    My doctor reccomended Sinus Rinse which is a packet of salt and baking soda mixed with distilled water and delivered as a rinse much like the neti pot but it is a bottle. It cleans your sinuses and removes allergens and has helped me immensly. You can buy it at Walgreens and I do it religously, same as brushing my teeth. - 10/29/2008   10:26:37 AM
    Sparkpeople has helped me in so many ways. Now I find, yet, a new way. Thanks for the simple chart that will help me in the future. I have wrestled with this for many years- just identifying my problem will help me follow up right away with a solution. I enjoyed reading all of the entries of suggestions that other sparklers entered. I will jot some of them down on the chart that I am about to print. Thanks!!! - 10/29/2008   10:17:23 AM
  • 31
    How about adding another column for Sinus? - 10/29/2008   9:48:44 AM
  • 30
    My favorite for a cold is to take Echinacea with Goldenseal. HAVE to take the full dose or don't bother with it. Doesn't do anything for symptoms, but it does, for many people (not all) boost the immune system so you can get over the mess much more quickly. In the fall I have gotten allergies that lowered my resistance and ended up with a cold turning into bronchitis that lasted over 2 months. Can we say chronic? Started taking the echinacea w/ goldenseal and I was cleared up in about a week. Since then I take it whenever something starts and frequently cut it off at the pass, or at least reduce the sick time to 2-3 days instead of weeks or months.
    Sore throat? Try 1 Tbs cider vinegar and 1 Tbs honey in an 8oz glass of water. Drink it through a straw (to keep the acids off your teeth). It helps and all the ingredients are good for you.
    Sinus congestion - strong horseradish or mustard will clear you up. You know that green paste they serve with sushi? It will open up those sinuses right now. - 10/29/2008   9:13:17 AM
  • 29
    I drink a cup of hot tea with a large tbsp of raw local honey--(must be local(within 5-10 miles of where you live and/or work.) This has made a world of difference for me---not more sinus infections and antibiotics - 10/29/2008   8:31:22 AM
  • 28
    For allergies, and as a general cold/allergy preventative, I've started using a neti pot. My first thought, before I tried it, was DISGUSTING! ! I'm now a convert and love using it. Daily use has really helped my sinuses and throat. In your pot, you mix 1 c tepid water with 1/4t non-iodized salt until salt is dissolved. Follow the directions for use that come with your pot. You'll love it, too! - 10/29/2008   7:13:25 AM
  • 27
    These help me:
    Make your bed daily so the allergens can't settle on the linens.
    Take a shower before going to bed so you won't be exposed to the allergens all night.
    A saline nose spray will rinse the allergens out of your nose.
    I also like lemon herbal tea. - 10/29/2008   7:12:43 AM
  • 26
    For me, the best allergy relief includes frequent hand /bedding washing and clothes changing, along with limiting or eliminating dairy and wheat during symptomatic seasons. Vitamin and glutathione therapies seems to help, as well. - 10/29/2008   4:01:43 AM
  • 25
    The season changed and my allergies started up. I don't have a cold because I don't have the symptons listed, I do suffer from allergies and I have been home 2 days because of the itchy eyes and headache. - 10/29/2008   1:54:17 AM
  • 24
    I am dealing with a cold and an allergy which dropped to my chest and is now in my ears...making me almost deaf. I am on antibiotics right now, bu will probably need more as the symptoms are not going away. I need to get this cleared up as the last time I was this was going into pneumonia and...yes, I have had a pneumonia shot, but doctor says that is no guarantee. This is, however, a good list to keep on hand. Thanks. - 10/29/2008   1:18:43 AM
  • 23
    I can't remember the last cold I had, maybe last winter? This is good. I also have allergies based on the itchy eyes, but it does not seem to be at regular times of the year. - 10/28/2008   11:05:39 PM
  • 22
    The best/ worst natural treatment: 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 lemon, 2 cups boiling water -- steep 2 minutes -- strain -- stir in 2 Tbs honey -- drink 1-2 Tbs as needed -- may be covered and kept in 'fridge. Tastes awful, which guarantees it is working :-)

    Always, a shot of whiskey (10 drops for the baby!-- especially for colic or teething).

    And peppermint oil or Vicks to the arch of the foot, massaging into the ball of the foot, for a cold. Massage it between to toes and over the tips of toes for sinuses. Put on socks and GO TO SLEEP! - 10/28/2008   9:49:59 PM
    This blog was really helpful. It made all the symptoms very clear. When I have allergies, I take Claritin Readitabs. They are the fastest and for me the best. For colds, a hot cup of tea helps, but more than anything rest is the best medicine. - 10/28/2008   9:41:44 PM
    I always have a hard time telling and usually end up going to the doctor more time than not when it's just allergies. - 10/28/2008   9:13:08 PM
  • 19
    Many times I suffer from both at the same time. Sometimes I start with allergies, which turn into a cold. Earlier this year I had allergies, and every time I went to the doctor's they kept just telling me to take Zyrtec and go home. Finally after several visits and 4 months of suffering, I saw a different doctor and it ended up I had pneumonia! I ended up in the ICU! Zyrtec my rear! - 10/28/2008   9:00:17 PM
    Blegh... I have a cold. - 10/28/2008   8:27:53 PM
  • 17
    Thanks for the information, it is very helpful. - 10/28/2008   7:01:04 PM
    This is handy! I'm always sniffly, especially lately, so this helps a lot! - 10/28/2008   4:10:57 PM
  • 15
    If I feel that I am getting a cold I drink lemon juice every 2 hrs, it works 9 out of ten times. I also eat home made chicken soup, those you can buy ready made hasn't all the active ingredients. - 10/28/2008   3:48:10 PM
  • 14
    I have year round allergies, and even today at the allergy doctor's I told him that I felt like I have a head cold that never goes away. I am taking all the medicine that you can take and getting the shots. For years I did the OTC stuff and the home remedies, but that didn't help either. It's nice to have this list just to know for sure. - 10/28/2008   3:46:53 PM
  • 13
    Nobody drinks any alcohol here, but I keep a small bottle of inexpensive whiskey in the cupboard to use for either a cold or allergy flare-up. Hot water with lemon, honey and whiskey helps. It even helps one to sleep at night when breathing is difficult. - 10/28/2008   3:38:28 PM
    Thanks for posting this. For the past 3 weeks I've been suffering from what I thought was a cold. My parents kept telling me it was allergies. Turns out that once the yellow/greenish mucus came, I knew I was right. I'm printing out this chart and giving it to my parents. - 10/28/2008   2:59:17 PM
  • 11
    For allergies, I work on prevention rather than having to use remedies. To prevent, I work on getting 7 or more hours of sleep; drinking 8 or more glasses of water; and avoiding allergens (for me, dust, mold, birch tree pollen). Dust is the hardest because I hate to clean house. LOL

    When I do get allergy flare ups, tea with honey and lemon is my favorite remedy and it works with colds too...... - 10/28/2008   2:44:39 PM
  • 10
    Green tea with honey and lemon, works great for me. I also like hot toddies when a cough keeps me up. warm tea with orange juice, cranberry juice and a shot of whiskey. Work every time. :0) - 10/28/2008   2:44:35 PM
  • 9
    herbal remedies are really mind over matter i think - if you believe they will work - they will... I'm all about hot and spicy... nothing says congestion cleared quickly than some hot and spicy anything... - 10/28/2008   2:20:53 PM
  • 8
    according to this article, i think i must have a lot of allergy... i ussually get sick whenever i travel as far as to another state... i've always thought that it might be because of the change in surroundings... - 10/28/2008   2:08:22 PM
  • 7
    zycam is a great product to get over your cold faster...just start taking it when signs of a cold starts - 10/28/2008   2:08:08 PM
  • 6
    I'm a believer in Chicken Noodle Soup and Orange Juice! Rest and nice hot bathes or showers! - 10/28/2008   2:01:17 PM
  • 5
    I am on medication. haven't found a home remedy that works yet. - 10/28/2008   1:51:29 PM
  • 4
    The only thing I can use is herbal remedies since I am allergic to decongestants and most anithistamines. Peppermint tea will soothe a sore throat and anything hot will help with congestions. Steam baths are also helpful. - 10/28/2008   1:39:53 PM

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