How to Tell the Difference Between Seasonal Allergies and a Cold?

Disclaimer: Not medical or professional advice. Always seek the advice of your physician.

Seasonal Allergies or a Cold?

Seasonal allergy is a disease that results from exposure to pollen, which affects the mucous membranes of the eyes and respiratory tract. It is also called hay fever.
Physicians use several factors to help distinguish the symptoms of colds from allergies.

No Fever

The vast majority of people with a cold experience fever and a gradual progression of symptoms. However, fever is an uncommon symptom of seasonal allergies. 

Increased Nasal Secretions (Runny Nose) While Outside

In the case of allergies, spending time outside can bring on a runny nose. The symptom is seasonal and usually occurs in spring, especially in dry, hot weather. When a person goes indoors, it typically clears up on its own or decreases. Whereas nasal congestion often seems to get worse in the evening in people with colds. The amount of mucus does not depend on external factors.

Nasal Discharge

Allergic rhinitis is characterized by clear and watery nasal discharge. While the color, consistency, and texture of mucus can vary depending on different stages of a cold. For example, it can become green or yellow. 

Other Symptoms

People with allergies may also have other symptoms: swollen eyes and eyelids, watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis), severe itching, skin redness. These manifestations are unusual and extremely rare in people with a cold.

Seasonal Periodicity of Symptoms

Seasonal allergies affect up to 20% of the world's population. It mostly includes teenagers, the working-age population, adults. Food allergies are among the most common allergies in young children, while older people rarely experience seasonal allergies.

If the same symptoms tend to occur at the same time every year, it is worth considering testing for allergies. For example, a person may start coughing or suffer from a runny nose during spring every year.


The easiest way to identify the presence of an allergy is to check the family history of allergic diseases. Knowing all the signs and symptoms, it is easier to diagnose the condition. Pollen allergy is often hereditary. It is estimated that children are 30% more likely to develop an allergy if one of their parents has one. If both parents are allergic, the risk of disease increases to 70%. However, the child will not necessarily be allergic to the same substances as the parents. 

Uncommon Allergy Triggers

The onset of seasonal allergies is usually triggered by flowering trees and grasses. On the other hand, some people with hay fever can develop a cough and runny nose if exposed to uncommon triggers at any time of the year.

  • smoke (bonfires in summer, fireplaces in winter)
  • insect bites
  • indoor or outdoor chlorinated swimming pool
  • pine scents

At the same time, unpleasant symptoms may disappear completely after being exposed to an allergen. However, cough and runny nose can last for 2 to 7 days if a person has a cold.

Strategies for allergy prevention and treatment require integrated approaches. It is best to start taking medications in advance before the symptoms become severe. Therefore, if you find yourself suffering from allergy symptoms, you should talk to your physician about medication options to treat allergic reactions. Also, you will likely be referred to an allergist for further testing.

Unfortunately, allergies cannot be cured completely, and scientists continue to conduct research studies to find a reliable and safe method to treat allergic reactions. However, timely diagnosis and treatment can significantly reduce the manifestations of this disease, as well as prevent the development of serious complications.

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