How to Tell the Difference Between Allergies and a Cold

March 26, 2014 3 Comments »

Allergies vs Colds  I

As a member of the CHPA OTC Safety Ambassador Program, I received compensation for this post but all opinions are my own and based on my family’s allergies.

Even though it’s March 26 and more snow blanketed the DC Metro area for the umpteenth time yesterday, the sniffle-sneeze-sniffle in our house tells me that the seasons are really changing and my love-hate relationship spring is upon us. On one hand, I enjoy the warmer temperatures coupled by the beauty that starts with crocuses and snowdrops pushing their way up through the snow, turns into blooming tulip trees and cherry blossoms, and new baby grass and bright green leaves on trees. On the other, I dislike the misery that the changing seasons and pollen bring because of allergies!

Without even looking at the trees to see the little buds forming on the once bare branches, I know that the seasons are changing. My kids are now coughing, sneezing, dealing with drippy noses, and sometimes complaining of watery eyes. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, we’re not alone:

“If both parents have allergies, their (biological) child has a 75 percent chance of having allergies. If one parent is allergic, or if relatives on one side of the family have allergies, then the child has about a 50 percent chance of developing allergies.”

Wouldn’t you know it? My husband and I both suffer from seasonal allergies (pollen found in trees, grass, flowers, or weeds) and are sensitive to other allergens such as dust, mold, and cat dander. says “allergies prompt 17 million doctor visits per year, especially during the spring and fall.” With allergies being the third most common chronic disease among children under the age of 18, it’s not surprising that we commonly mistake allergy symptoms for a cold.

Distinguishing Between Allergies and a Cold

While colds are caused by viruses, shares that allergies are a “disease of the immune system that causes an overreaction to substances that usually cause no reaction in non-allergic individuals.” Allergic reactions can happen at certain times of the year and are considered seasonal. They can also occur year-round in some individuals.

Look for these three signs to save yourself a trip to the pediatrician’s office in favor of some over-the-counter allergy medicine for relief!

3 signs it's allergies not a cold

Still not sure if it’s a cold or allergies? This helpful Common Colds vs Allergies PDF from has more information.

Allergies vs. Colds

4 Tips for Safe Allergy Relief

  • Some OTC oral allergy medicines are available in different dosage strengths. Select a product indicated for your child’s age and read the Drug Facts label carefully for appropriate dosing information.
  • Some oral allergy medicines may cause excitability or nervousness, especially in children. If you have any questions, contact your child’s doctor.
  • Never use allergy medicines to sedate or make a child sleepy.
  • Knowing the ingredients is important! Diphenhydramine is a common ingredient in allergy medicines and should not be given to kids under 6.

For more information on allergies, visit the website and follow them on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

Spring Allergies

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  1. Andrea (Lil-Kid-Things) March 26, 2014 at 9:29 am -

    We are currently dealing with both! Now that is just not fair 🙂

  2. Jendi March 28, 2014 at 10:43 am -

    I don’t have problems with allergies, but my husband does. Since reading your post I’m wondering if the cough and sniffle my youngest has is from an allergy instead of the cold I thought. Thanks for the info!

  3. Sarah Pinnix March 30, 2014 at 9:22 pm -

    Thank you!! I recently went to Florida where Spring is “springing,” and came back with sinus drainage and sore throat. Soon after I was back in my winter wonderland, I got better. I never know whether to stay home from work to avoid getting others sick.