Do I have allergies? Is it hay fever? Or, maybe I just have a cold. How can I tell if it's hay fever or just a cold? These questions are really all just different versions of one question – what is causing these symptoms? Actually, it is a good question to ask because sometimes it can be difficult to tell what the root cause really is. A common cold can and is often confused with seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis), and with good reason. While the undering cause is very different, the symptoms of these two conditions are very similar. So just how can you differentiate what it is that is causing that stuff nose?

What Characterizes Your Symptoms?

There are a number of ways that you can tell what is bothering you based on the types of symptoms you have. But there are also some characteristics that can be tell-tale signs of one or the other. So lets start there. First of all, the time of year can be an indicator. Colds are much more common during the cold months of winter. While seasonal allergies, which are caused by things like pollen and mold, mostly flare up during the spring, and late summer to fall. Since allergies are caused by things that are airborne, the symptoms of these will last as long as the allergen is present – which could be months. A cold on the other hand will most certainly not last longer than right about two weeks.

Finally, with a cold, symptoms generally follow some sort of progress over a couple days. That is, you might first experience some congestion, and the next day the sunset of a fever, and following that a runny nose or a cough. Although the order certainly varies, the symptoms do not begin all at once. However with allergies, when you are exposed to the allergen, your symptoms will generally all occur at the same time.

Comparison of Symptoms

Itchy Eyes
Common cold: Almost never present, and only slight discomfort if present.
Seasonal Allergies: Often present, may be watery or swollen too.

Itchy Nose
Common cold: Not generally present.
Seasonal Allergies: Often present, may also be congested, though not necessarily.

Runny nose
Common cold: Often present, yellow or green colored discharge, may be due to an infection.
Seasonal Allergies: Often present and usually is a clear colored discharge.

Common cold: Sometimes present.
Seasonal Allergies: Not present.

Aches and pains
Common cold: At times, general aches and pains.
Seasonal Allergies: Not present

Sore throat
Common cold: Generally a hacking cough or horse feeling.
Seasonal Allergies: Present sometimes, but feels more scratchy, or even an itchy sensation.

Common cold: Sometimes present.
Seasonal Allergies: Usually present. Usually will be 2 or 3 sneezes in rapid success.

The differences in symptoms described above should help you determine the source of your discomfort. But, if you are still unsure what is causing the problem you should talk with a health care professional to determine what the next steps should be. Also, if your symptoms are worsening or are already quite serious you should see a doctor. And finally, if you think that the problem you are facing is due to allergies, you should schedule an appointment to verify this and discuss further treatment. Your doctor will help you diagnose what is causing your allergies and provide some options for treatment. In the meantime you can treat your symptoms to find some relief.