Cover image for difference between allergies and common cold

What is an allergy?

An allergy is simply a reaction of the immune system. When certain substances come in contact or enter the body, the immunity system responds by causing some symptoms. The immunity system confuses them as harmful substances and releases chemicals, such as histamine to combat them. Allergies are not contagious in nature which means that they do not spread in contact. 

The substances due to which allergic reactions occur are known as allergens. A person can be allergic to-

  • Pollen from grass, trees, and weeds
  • Dust (Also Read: Tips To Prevent Dust Allergy During Winters )
  • Food such as milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, etc.
  • Insect bites including wasp and bee stings, mosquito bites, etc. 
  • Animal dander
  • Mold
  • Drugs such as penicillin
  • Wool, fur 
  • Latex 

There are other substances a person can be allergic to. Allergies can be seasonal too, which can mostly result from an airborne disease.

What is a Common Cold?

Unlike allergies, a common cold is a viral infection. It is a contagious disease that can be caused by more than 200 types of viruses. Rhinovirus is the most common virus that causes the common cold in adults. It generally infects the upper part of the respiratory tract. Children are more likely to suffer from a common cold than adults. 

A common cold spreads by either coming into direct contact with a contaminated surface or inhaling the air carrying the virus. A person can come into contact with the virus by touching objects such as cell phones, keyboards, coffee mugs, books, etc. 

Different causes

As discussed above, common colds develop due to viruses while allergies are autoimmune reactions.  

Most people think that the most common reason associated with catching a cold is getting exposed to chilly weather. But this is not true. Believe it or not, there are more than 200 different types of viruses can cause a common cold. A common cold is a condition in which the upper respiratory tract is infected.

Allergies are not caused by any viruses. Our immunity system works tirelessly to ward off various microorganisms. When the body comes in contact with substances that are otherwise non-harmful substances such as dust, pollen, etc, the immunity confuses them as dangerous. This prompts the body to produce antibodies that cause allergic symptoms. 

Similar Symptoms

woman coughing
The confusion between an allergy and common cold lies in the fact that they cause similar symptoms. Some of the common symptoms people experience with both cold and allergy are –

  • A feeling of congestion inside the nasal passage
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Soreness in the throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Infected eye resulting in red eye 

How to tell the difference between common cold and allergy?

Although symptoms of cold and allergies seem to overlap, both of these conditions are easily distinguishable. 

Allergies Common Cold
The onset of symptoms is immediate. The onset of symptoms takes a few days.
Symptoms persist as long as exposed to allergens. Symptoms last for almost 2 weeks.
Fever is very likely to occur when suffering from an allergy. Fever can develop in cases of a common cold.
Itchy, watery eyes occur in allergies. Watery eyes rarely occur in colds.
Body ache is not a symptom of an allergy. Body ache is commonly associated with the common cold.
Not contagious in nature.  Spreads from one person to another on contact. 


Treatment for Common Cold

The treatment for the common cold is different for adults and children. Let’s have a look at both of them.

Common cold treatment for children-

The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration does not recommend cold medicines for children under the age of 4. Hence, parents are asked to follow the below-mentioned tips-

  • Ask your children to take rest as much as possible.
  • Keep your children hydrated enough. Make sure they drink regularly.
  • Kids with colds may not feel as hungry as usual. Make sure your children eat enough calories and fluids.
  • To clear nasal congestion and get relief from a sore throat, use saline nasal sprays and gargle with saltwater.
  • Take a warm bath to reduce the fever and get relief from mild aches and pain associated with a common cold.

Common cold treatment for adults-

  • Adults can consume OTC medicines such as decongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers.
  • Some home remedies to get rid of the cold include gargling with saltwater, resting and staying well hydrated.

Also Read: 9 Indian Home Remedies For Cold That Surely Work For Mom-To-Be

Treatment for allergies 

Allergic treatment depends on its severity. While mild allergies can be treated at home with some simple remedies and OTC medicines, severe allergies include allergy shots or drug sensitization.

medicines in a hand

Home remedies for allergies


Antihistamines are drugs that help to get immediate relief from the symptoms of allergies such as sneezing, watery eyes and skin reactions. An antihistamine can be taken as- oral pills, dissolvable tablets, nasal sprays, liquids or eye drops. 

Lotions and creams 

An allergic reaction can cause red and itchy skin which can simply be treated with OTC creams and lotions such as steroids, calamine lotion, and steroids. 

Nasal decongestants

These decongestants that are available in the form of pills, liquids, and sprays help to unclog the nasal passages as well as get relief from sore throat or coughing. (Also Read: Foods To Eat And Avoid In Case Of Cough )

Avoid exposure to allergens

The best possible way of treating an allergy is avoiding getting exposed to the allergen. Here is a list of tips that can help you manage the symptoms-

    • For treating food allergies, avoid eating items that you are allergic to.
    • To treat animal allergies, keep pets outside as much as possible.
    • For mold allergies, keep the room dry and well-ventilated.
    • To prevent dust-mite allergies, use allergy-proof duvets and pillows. 

For allergies that occur due to pollen, dust, etc. some of the holistic tips are-

    • Taking a shower to wash away the allergens.
    • Washing all the clothes that were exposed to the allergen.
    • Consuming lozenges with ingredients such as menthol, honey or ginger.

Severe allergies require medical assistance. Some of the treatment options for chronic allergies are discussed below-

    • Immunotherapy or allergy shots. 
    • Asthma medications such as corticosteroids or bronchodilators.

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