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Cold and Runny Nose vs Allergy: What Is the Difference?

Cold and Runny Nose vs Allergy: What Is the Difference?

People often mix up a cold and runny nose with an allergy because these two conditions share almost the exact same symptoms. It is no wonder that people are confused when it comes to colds and allergies, however, they must know that these two are very different from each other, especially in terms of what causes them. This begs the question, “How can you differentiate a cold and runny nose from an allergy?”

What Is the Difference Between a Cold and Runny Nose and an Allergy?

A cold and runny nose (also known as colds) refers to a viral infection in areas such as the nose, bronchi, and pharynx.

On the other hand, allergies refer to the body’s reaction when allergens enter the human body and the body mistakes these allergens as a foreign invader. The body then undergoes an extreme immune reaction. This is why people start to feel their eyes getting itchy, and their nose becoming runny. At times, their skin may also become itchy. Rashes or hives may also form.

What Are the Symptoms and Causes of a Cold and Runny Nose?

The common symptoms of a cold and runny nose are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Soreness in the throat
  • Coughing
  • Fevers or chills
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Losing sense of smell or taste
  • Experiencing nausea or vomiting

The common causes of a cold and runny nose are:

  • Being in a place with cold temperatures
  • Flu
  • Allergies
  • Having gustatory rhinitis (getting a runny nose when eating certain kinds of food)

What Are the Symptoms and Causes of an Allergy?

Some common symptoms of an allergy are the following:

  • Allergens can cause mild reactions to the body such as itchiness, runny nose, hay fever, rashes or hives, and watery and itchy eyes.
  • Allergens can cause moderate reactions to the body such as hives, itchiness, and possibly trouble in breathing.
  • And allergens can cause severe reactions to the entire body such as cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, swelling and hives, mental confusion or dizziness, and a drop in blood pressure.

The common causes of allergy are:

  • Pollen
  • Certain kind of food
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • Latex
  • Insect venom
  • Animal dander (skin that is shed by animals, including feathers and fur)

How To Differentiate Cold and Runny Nose from Allergy

Symptoms

Cold and Runny Nose

Allergy

Headache Not common Not common
Fever Possible but rare There is no possibility for a person to get a fever if they are experiencing allergies.
Aches and Pains Slight body aches and pains There is no possibility for a person to experience body aches and pains if they are experiencing allergies.
Exhaustion People who have a cold will not experience exhaustion. People who are experiencing allergies will not experience exhaustion.
Weakness/Fatigue Sometimes Sometimes
Cough Common Sometimes
Sore Throat Common Sometimes
Stuffy and/or Runny Nose Common Common
Sneezing It is guaranteed that people will sneeze when they have a cold and runny nose. It is guaranteed that people will sneeze when they are experiencing allergies.
Discomfort in the chest Mild to moderate chest discomfort It is rare to feel discomfort in the chest for people who are experiencing allergies. However those with allergic asthma are likely to feel these symptoms.

Key Takeaway

Although both the common cold and allergies may share similarities in terms of symptoms, they do have differences. For example, a fever is rare for those with a cold, but it will never happen as a result of allergies. Likewise, a cough and sore throat are common with the cold, but are unlikely to happen with allergies. These differences make it easy for people to identify which treatment or remedy they should use. When in doubt, it is always best to consult your doctor.

Learn more about the Common Cold here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Runny Nose: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17660-runny-nose, Accessed October 24, 2021

Cold or allergy: Which is it? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/expert-answers/common-cold/faq-20057857, Accessed October 24, 2021

Decoding the Symptoms: Common Colds vs Allergies, https://www.knowyourotcs.org/decoding-the-symptoms-common-colds-vs-allergies/, Accessed October 24, 2021

Allergies: Types, Symptoms, Causes & Treatments, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8610-allergy-overview, Accessed October 24, 2021

Cold, Flu or Allergy? https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2014/10/cold-flu-or-allergy, Accessed October 24, 2021

 

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Written by Jen Mallari Updated 6 days ago
Fact Checked by Cesar Beltran