Common Cold or Allergies? How to Tell the Difference

We’ve all experienced colds. And we usually don’t take notice of it, aside from treating it with the usual over-the-counter medication and rest. After all, that’s why it’s called the common cold, right?

Of course, when you start sneezing, people might suddenly say, “Hey, you have an allergy!”

So wait, do you have the common cold, or do you have an allergy?

Knowing is important because treatments are different. You might be treating yourself for allergies when all you have is a cold, and vice versa. You’d just be wasting time, money, and medicine if you’re treating the wrong thing, and we’re sure you don’t want that.

And yes, the common cold is easily mistaken for allergies because some people apparently have allergies that are very similar to having minor colds.

So how exactly can we tell what we have, without having to schedule a trip to the doctor?

Let’s take a look at the difference between colds and allergies, and how to know which one you have.

Cold vs Allergies


Also known by its scientific name ​​Upper Respiratory Infection (URI), a cold is caused by a virus. Sadly, there are many different types of viruses responsible for colds, which is why there is no cure for it. Symptoms and severity of the cold may vary, but all kinds of colds share basic characteristics.

Once this virus gets inside your body, your immune system works to counter-attack it. It is during this counter-attack when a cough or a stuffy nose happens, telling you that your body is fighting some virus that entered your system. 

And despite the name, you can get a cold at any time of the year, even if it happens to be summer or during the hottest day of the year in New Jersey.  It was only called “cold” because it has the same effects as a person being exposed to cold weather. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the average adult gets two or three colds per year, and colds are the leading cause of children and adults missing school and work, respectively.

People with weaker immune systems, asthma, and other respiratory conditions may develop serious illnesses due to cold, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.


Allergies, on the other hand, are not caused by any virus. Instead, allergies happen when your immune system has an extremely adverse reaction to certain substances. When you’re exposed to the allergy trigger (called an allergen), your immune system releases chemicals called histamine. This release is what causes your allergy symptoms. 

There are what are called seasonal allergens such as trees, grass, and weed pollen. They are very common allergy triggers. Some allergens can be food-related, drug-related, or even insect-related. It is also possible to be allergic to certain substances for the whole year.

Some allergies may trigger a reaction known as anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening, as it can cause you to go into shock. If you or your loved one goes into shock, it is best to search for “urgent care, Union City, NJ” immediately in your browser or call 911.

How to tell the difference between a cold and an allergy

So aside from them being called different things, and starting with different letters, how can you accurately say when one has a cold or one has an allergy? Here are some things to take note of:

How long it lasts

Colds can disappear in as little as three days, but may also last for as long as fourteen. Allergies will never truly go away as long as the allergy trigger is there. Do take note that because your immune system changes constantly, it is also possible for your allergies to change. For example, babies can outgrow milk allergies.

When it happens

For colds, symptoms usually appear after getting infected with the virus. For allergies, symptoms immediately happen after contact with the allergy trigger.

Common symptoms of both

The following are symptoms of both:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy noses
  • Some form of fatigue

Unique symptoms of colds

  • Cough or Sore Throat – These are symptoms that often come before a cold. For allergies, both symptoms don’t come out as often.
  • Fever – A fever never happens before an allergy strikes. It is more common for colds, but it does rarely ever happen.
  • Chest Discomfort – One can experience some sort of chest discomfort if you are experiencing mild to moderate colds. This is usually not true for allergies EXCEPT if you have allergic asthma.

Unique symptoms of allergies

  • Itchy and watery eyes – This is a very common symptom of allergies.You won’t get this symptom from colds.

If it spreads

Allergies are not contagious and are unique to individuals. Colds, on the other hand, are highly infectious, as they spread from infected people through the air and through close personal contact.


For a common cold, you don’t usually need to see a doctor. Most of the time, resting at home and drinking plenty of water will do the trick. Other medications that may be prescribed include over-the-counter cough syrups and cold medications, decongestant nasal sprays, or antibiotics, but only if absolutely necessary.

However, if symptoms last for more than 10 days and you have severe or unusual symptoms, it’s best to consult with a doctor to ensure that you don’t have a bacterial infection like pneumonia.

For allergies, you might need to see a doctor if symptoms become unusual because you might need further tests to confirm the true cause of your allergy. Common treatments for allergies include avoiding your allergens or allergic triggers, antihistamines, and nasal steroid. Decongestants are also used to treat allergies.

And as mentioned above, if you or your loved one starts to experience anaphylaxis, go immediately to the emergency room or call 911 for immediate first aid.

If you are still in doubt of what you have, it’s best to consult with a doctor and avoid further self-medication, especially if what you are taking is not working. Consulting with these professionals will surely be the best thing that you can do for your health. At the same time, they’ll be able to shed light and the correct explanation for whatever it is you’re experiencing. 

For your healthcare concerns, reach out to Diligent Urgent Care.

If you’re in New Jersey and you’re looking for a reliable health care provider, there’s no need to Google “Urgent care Bergenline” or “urgent care West Orange.” Diligent Urgent Care is well within your reach! We are open 365 days a year and are more than willing to work extended hours in order to meet your health needs. We are a one-stop affordable solution – from diagnosis to physical examinations, vaccinations, and lab tests, we have them all here! 

Our coverage areas include Union City, Hoboken, Weehaken, Jersey City, West Orange and more. We are located at 3807 Bergenline AveUnion City, NJ 07087. 

Contact us at 201-414-6277 or you can also send us an email at [email protected] to set an appointment. We are open from 8 am to 10 pm from Monday to Friday, and from 9 am to 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday.