Cold vs. Allergy: ACAAI’s Checklist

in Outdoor Allergies
Published: May 13, 2013

Cropped shot of a young man suffering with a cold while sitting wrapped in a blanket on the sofa at home.Photo: Getty
Many people confuse summertime allergy symptoms with those of a common cold. What these people don’t know is that the symptoms brought on by allergies and those caused by the sniffles can be very similar. And just because allergies haven’t struck before doesn’t mean they never will: even adults who have never had seasonal allergies can develop them suddenly.

Is your summer being ruined by what appears to be a drawn-out cold? Make sure you aren’t mistaking cold symptoms for those caused by seasonal allergies by following the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s Cold vs. Allergy Checklist:

  • Have you experienced symptoms for two weeks or more? If your answer is yes, then your symptoms are more likely to be caused by allergies. Colds usually die out after a week or two, at most.
  • Are your symptoms escalating? If your symptoms are escalating or progressing, then you probably have a cold. Colds tend to evolve, starting with a stuffy nose, irritated throat and fever. Then comes the sneezing and runny nose. Mucous also thickens as the cold progresses. In contrast, allergy symptoms tend to appear fairly quickly and don’t evolve.
  • Do you have green or clear mucous? Colored mucous that appears yellow or green is usually related to an infection, while clear mucous tends to be allergy-related. But be careful: in some cases, the opposite can be true.
  • Are you itching or wheezing? Itchy eyes, mouth, nose, throat or skin all tend to be signs of allergy, rather than a cold. Wheezing is a sign of asthma, which can be triggered by allergens such as mold or pollen. Asthma and allergy are related: between 75 and 80 percent of people with asthma are estimated to have allergies as well.

Pollen typically bears the brunt of the blame for seasonal allergies, but mold can be just as nasty. In fact, according to the ACAAI, mold counts can actually outnumber pollen counts, even during peak pollen season.

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Related Reading:
Ask the Allergist: Allergic Rhinitis or the Common Cold?