Cough. Sneeze. Wheeze. You Know the Symptoms. But Do You Know the Cause?

10.8.15 Flu vs Allergies Image Man SneezingThe similarities between symptoms of the flu or cold and nasal allergies—a.k.a. allergic rhinitis, indoor or outdoor allergies, seasonal allergies, or hay fever—can cause confusion. It can even cause you to make the wrong diagnosis and treat your symptoms with the wrong medications.

It is important to understand the differences and determine the correct diagnosis because if allergies are left untreated, they can cause more serious conditions like sinusitis or ear infections. There are some key differences between the two, but it is always important to talk to your doctor to get the most accurate diagnosis.




Flu or Cold


Allergies usually cause runny nose with clear discharge, stuffed nose, violent sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and watery and itchy eyes.

Flu or cold usually cause runny nose with yellow discharge, aches and pains, sore and scratchy throat, sneezing, and coughing.


There is no fever with allergies.

If you have a fever it is almost certainly the flu or cold rather than allergies.


Anytime of the year:  spring, summer, fall or winter.

Usually appear in winter, but are also possible in the fall, spring or summer.


Symptoms begin almost immediately after exposure to allergens.

Usually takes a few days for the flu or cold symptoms to appear.


Symptoms last a long time, as long you are exposed to the allergen. If the allergen is present all year long, symptoms can be chronic.

Flu or cold symptoms should clear up within a few days to a week. Rarely lasts more than 10 days.

Flu or Cold

The flu or cold are commonly caused by a virus. You can get the flu or a cold from another person that has that virus, even though you may be in good health. This happens when you breathe in germs or come in direct contact with the infected person. To prevent yourself from getting the flu or a cold, get a flu shot every year, frequently wash your hands, use a disinfectant, and be careful when sneezing and coughing around others.

Let the flu or cold run its course. Get rest, drink lots of fluids, and eat healthy foods. Over-the-counter medications, like a decongestant or nasal sprays, can help relieve your symptoms, but they do not cure your cold—only time can do that.


Nasal allergies occur during exposure to an allergen, and your nasal cavity becomes irritated and inflamed. Unlike the flu or cold, allergies are not contagious. If you have a high temperature or an achy body, it is most likely the flu or cold rather than allergies. Common indoor and outdoor allergens include tree, grass and weed pollen, dust mites, animal dander, mold, and cockroaches.

There is no cure for allergies, but there are prescription and over-the-counter medications that treat allergy symptoms. For some people, allergy shots (immunotherapy), can help to reduce your sensitivity to allergens over time. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

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