Young man with a beige sweater sitting on a cough blowing his nose

Cold vs. Allergies

Is it a cold or allergies? Although cold and allergy symptoms may feel similar, they are different illnesses.1 Trying to figure out what your stuffy nose and cough mean can be tricky. Similar symptoms appear for both conditions.1 The key is knowing how they differ, so you can determine the symptoms that are unique to colds and allergies that may help you figure out what is making you feel sick and select the appropriate medicines and other remedies that may help relieve your symptoms.

What is a Common Cold?

What most people call the common cold is actually an upper respiratory infection.2 Your upper respiratory tract consists of your nose, nasal passages, and throat.2 Having a cold means your upper respiratory tract is infected with one of 200 possible viruses that can cause the common cold, The main virus responsible for causing the common cold in adults is the rhinovirus 2  Rhinoviruses are spread through respiratory droplets released during coughing or sneezing by an infected person. These droplets can enter another person's body through inhalation or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. 3

The symptoms of a cold may include:3

  • Congestion
  • Fever
  • Aches & Pains
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

This may not cover every potential symptom, though. You may also have one or more on the list, but you don’t have to have all of them.

The bulk of your symptoms will likely clear up in seven days. 3 However, you could experience a cough or stuffy nose for up to two weeks.4

What are Allergies?

The immune system protects your body from dangerous invaders such as bacteria and viruses.5 Allergies occur when your immune system becomes sensitive to something that is typically harmless such as dust, pollen, and mould.5 This means that if you encounter these substances known as allergens, again, you may experience an allergic reaction. 5

Airborne allergens are things that you can breathe in, such as dust, pet dander, or pollen.5 If you are allergic to these airborne substances, you will have a reaction if you inhale them.5

Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:6,7

  • Itchy eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy nose
  • Itchy Throat

The reaction will last as long as you are in contact with the allergen. If you inhale the allergen, your symptoms could last for several days or more. It may be longer with certain allergens, such as pet dander, dust mites, or pollen.7

What are Some Common Symptoms Between a Cold and Allergies?

The similarities between the common cold and allergies can be confusing. With either condition, you might experience sneezing, a runny nose, a stuffed-up nose, and fatigue. 8

Allergies vs Cold – How to Tell the Difference

It’s understandable that people can confuse colds with allergies and vice versa. Unfortunately, the similarities sometimes make it difficult to distinguish one from the other. The best way to know what you are experiencing is to ask yourself some questions.

1. What kind of mucus is coming out of your nose?

You can have a runny nose with either allergies or a cold, but if the mucus is clear and watery, you are likely experiencing an allergy. With a cold, you will have cloudy and thick mucus. It may also be a color such as white, yellow, or green. 7

2. Do you have a Fever?

A fever will likely mean you have a cold. Allergies don’t come with a fever.7,9

3. Do you have an itchy nose?

An itchy nose is something you would get with an allergy. Colds do not cause itching.7

4. Do you have watery eyes?

Watery eyes are a very common symptom of an allergy but not common when you have a cold.7

Common Cold and Allergy Comparison

One of the best ways to tell the difference between the common cold and allergies is to check your symptoms. There are some similarities in symptoms but there are differences, too. The following chart provides an overview of the similarities and differences between the two:7,8

Symptoms Allergies Cold
Sneezing Yes Yes
Stuffy nose (Congestion) Yes Yes
Runny nose Yes Yes
Sore throat Rarely Yes
Coughing Rarely Yes
Watery eyes Yes Yes
Fever No Sometimes
Itchy eyes Yes No
Aches and pain Rarely Sometimes

What Should One Do If They Think They Have Cold or Seasonal Allergies?

How to Relieve Common Cold Symptoms

Home remedies such as the following might help ease your cold symptoms and keep you from feeling sick:10

You can take a commonsense approach to cold prevention, too. Check out How to Prevent A Cold to learn more.

How to Relieve Allergy Symptoms

Allergies are a common problem that affects many people. As with most things, prevention is your first line of defense if you are wondering how to relieve allergies. Reducing your exposure to allergy triggers and keeping indoor air clean is important.  

Here are some home remedies for allergy symptom relief:10, 11

  • Steam shower to reduce congestion.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to thin the mucus.
  • Avoiding your allergy triggers altogether.
  • Take over-the-counter medication.

If you have allergies, take the time to figure out what is triggering them. If you are unsure, your healthcare provider can help.


Deciding if you have allergies or cold can be challenging, especially when you don’t feel well. An excellent place to start is by looking closer at your symptoms for clues. If you are suffering from a cold, Tylenol Complete Cold, Cough, & Flu Plus Mucus Relief Liquid Gels provide you with the trusted relief you want. If your symptoms persist or worsen, it's important to consult with a doctor or healthcare professional to get an accurate diagnosis to rule out any underlying conditions or complications.





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