Allergy or cold: How to distinguish them and better manage them?

child with a blindfold on his ears coughing outdoors

It is sometimes difficult to differentiate a cold from an allergy , in particular because of the similarity of symptoms.

However, it is essential to know if one suffers from allergic rhinitis or a simple cold to adapt the treatment and avoid complications.

Today we're going to help you distinguish between these two conditions and give you some tips on how to better manage them.

You can also find our article on recognizing and treating pollen allergy symptoms .

The causes of colds and allergic rhinitis

The common cold is a viral infection that primarily affects the upper respiratory tract.

It is caused by several types of viruses, the most common of which is rhinovirus .

Transmission generally occurs through direct contact with an infected person or with contaminated objects (door handles, handkerchiefs, etc.).

Allergic rhinitis, on the other hand, is an inflammatory reaction caused by a foreign substance (allergen) in the environment of the affected person. Some of the most common allergens include:

  • pollen
  • acarians
  • animal hair
  • dust
  • certain medications
  • specific foods

Symptoms of colds and allergic rhinitis

Although the two conditions have similar symptoms, there are a few differences that generally help tell them apart:

Runny nose

A runny nose is a common symptom of colds and allergies.

However, in the case of a cold, the nasal secretion is often thick and yellowish, while it is generally clear and watery for an allergy.


Sneezing is also present in both cases, but is usually more frequent and sudden in allergy.

Duration of symptoms

The duration of symptoms is one of the main elements that helps to differentiate a cold from an allergy. Indeed, the common cold usually disappears within a week to ten days, while the symptoms of an allergy can persist as long as the allergen is present in the environment of the person concerned.

Fever and muscle aches

Unlike allergic rhinitis, the common cold can be accompanied by mild fever and muscle aches.

Presence of other symptoms

Finally, allergic rhinitis is often associated with other symptoms, such as:

  • itching in the eyes, nose and throat
  • allergic conjunctivitis (red, watery and irritated eyes)
  • sleep disturbances and fatigue
woman in bed blowing her nose

    How to manage colds and allergic rhinitis?

    To relieve symptoms and prevent complications, it is important to adapt the treatment according to the cause of the condition:

    Cold treatment

    Treatment for the common cold is primarily aimed at relieving symptoms.

    Here are some tips to help you better cope with this viral episode:

    • Get enough rest to allow your body to fight off the virus.
    • Hydrate regularly to avoid dehydration and facilitate the elimination of nasal secretions.
    • Use a decongestant nasal spray or saline wash to clear the airways.
    • Take painkillers and fever reducers to reduce pain and fever.

    Do not hesitate to consult a health professional if the symptoms persist or worsen.

    Treatment of allergic rhinitis

    The management of allergic rhinitis is based on several aspects:

    • The eviction of the allergen, as far as possible: it is important to identify the allergen in question to limit contact with it.
    • Taking antihistamines, which help control symptoms by blocking the action of histamine, a substance released by the body during an allergic reaction.
    • The use of nasal corticosteroids, which act on inflammation and provide rapid relief of symptoms.
    • Desensitization (immunotherapy), a background treatment prescribed by an allergist, which consists of gradually introducing increasing doses of the allergen in order to improve the body's tolerance.
    • Wearing an anti-pollution mask that will protect you from pollen when you are outdoors.

    In the event of severe or poorly controlled allergic rhinitis, it is recommended to consult an allergist to benefit from personalized follow-up and appropriate treatment.

    If you regularly suffer from cold-like symptoms, it is essential to determine whether it is an allergy or a viral infection.

    This distinction makes it possible to adapt the treatment and prevent possible complications.

    In the same theme as allergies or colds