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Similar symptoms. Different causes.

To understand the difference between a cold and allergies, it is important to know that some cold symptoms are actually the same as some allergy symptoms. Plus, everyone experiences colds and allergies a little differently. It’s no wonder why it can be challenging to figure out exactly what’s going on.

What are allergies?

An allergy is an exaggerated reaction of your immune system to otherwise harmless substances (allergens such as pet dander, pollen, dust mites, and mold). When you come into contact with these allergens, your body confuses them with harmful substances and attacks them by releasing chemicals such as histamine into the body. These chemicals cause you to experience allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, or stuffy nose. Allergies are never contagious, but they can run in the family.

What is a cold?

Although allergies share many of the same symptoms as colds, colds are different. Cold symptoms occur when a virus gets into your body and your immune system attacks it. This can cause some of the same symptoms such as sneezing and nasal congestion, also seen with allergies.

But there are some key differences. Germs that cause colds are contagious. You can become infected when someone with cold symptoms sneezes, coughs, or touches you.

Luckily, cold symptoms tend to disappear in 7 to 10 days. If cold symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, consider contacting your doctor.

The signs of a cold versus allergies

Symptoms for allergies can vary and can be more prevalent in the spring and fall for seasonal allergy sufferers. Colds can cause different symptoms and sometimes, the symptoms may be more severe. This chart explains some of the differences.

Is it a Cold or an Allergy?



airborne allergy

Common Cough Sometimes
Sometimes General aches/pains Never
Sometimes Fatigue or weakness Sometimes
Rare or never Itchy eyes Common
Common Sneezing Common
Common Sore Throat Sometimes
Common Runny nose Common
Common Stuffy nose Common
Rare Fever Never
3 to 14 days Duration Weeks

(for example 6 weeks for ragweed
or grass pollen seasons)

Source: Adapted from NIH Medline Plus

Don’t hold your breath while you wait to find out.

Whether you have a cold, allergies or both, Afrin can help relieve your nasal congestion when used as directed. It goes to work right away, helping you breathe more freely in seconds – and lasts 12 hours.

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