Allergic Rhinitis vs. Common Cold

When a person suffers from coughing, congestion, runny nose, and sneezing, a cold is usually the first thought, but not so fast! These symptoms could indicate allergy. So how can you tell if it’s a common cold or allergic rhinitis? Here are some tips.

allergies vs cold

Common Cold: Identification and Symptoms
A common cold is a virus. There are more than 100 types of cold viruses, according to medical experts. These viruses are contagious and manifest with these symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Runny and stuffy nose
  • Fever
  • General aches and pains
  • Fatigue and weakness

Allergic Rhinitis: Identification and Symptoms
Allergic rhinitis, unlike a common cold, is not caused by any virus. Hence, it’s not contagious. It occurs when a foreign object (such as dust or pollen) enters the body and is mistakenly identified by the immune system as an invader. As a response, the body releases histamines to ward the allergen off. The unleashed histamines lead to the manifestation of symptoms similar to a common cold.

  • Fatigue
  • Runny, stuffy nose, congestion
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Sore throat (caused by post-nasal drip)

Note that fevers and aches do not accompany allergies. Another key difference is in the duration of symptoms: colds tend to last from 3 to 7 days (and rarely longer than 14 days), but allergies can hang around for as long as allergens are present in the environment.

What to Do?

A common cold can be treated with pain relievers and over-the-counter cold remedies such as decongestants. It is important to get sufficient sleep and drink plenty of water during the recovery process. Talk to your doctor if your symptoms linger for more than 10-14 days.

Allergic rhinitis can be relieved by over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroid sprays. If you or your child suffer from allergic rhinitis, consider a more permanent solution known as allergy immunotherapy (available through shots or under-the-tongue drops known as sublingual immunotherapy).

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.