Ask Pharmaca: How Can I Tell if it’s Cold or Allergies?

SneezyQ. I’m congested. Is it cold or allergies?

A. Sniffles and congestion, your head feels hea, your throat is raw and you feel lethargic. With these common upper respiratory symptoms, it can be difficult to determine if it’s a cold, allergies or even a sinus infection. Symptoms of all three can mimic and overlap each other, making it tricky to determine the best course of treatment.

What are the differences between a cold and allergies?

A common cold is caused by one of many viruses and is spread person to person through respiration and human contact. Our immune system mounts an attack on the virus, thus causing symptoms such as congestion and fatigue. A cold usually does not last longer than 10 days and its primary season is late August to April.

Seasonal allergies, on the other hand, are an immune response to something in the environment—allergens such as pollens, mold, dust or mites. Histamine release causes congestion, sinus pressure, coughing and other common allergy symptoms, which can last much longer than a common cold. The primary season for allergies is March through September.

With a sinus infection, membranes become inflamed, harmful bacteria make a home and congestion develops. Both colds and allergies can lead to sinus infections, but allergies are the most common cause, since chronically inflamed sinuses pave the way for infection. If not properly treated, sinus infections can last a long time. Sinus infections are prominent during weather and humidity changes.

The most notable difference between a cold and allergies is the duration; a cold usually doesn’t last longer than 10 days. If your symptoms persist beyond two weeks, contact your doctor to determine if it could be allergies or a sinus infection.

Try some of these ideas the next time you fall under the weather:



  • I like Plantiva AllerDx because it calms histamine reactions quickly and helps improves repiratory airflow.
  • Ortho Molecular Natural D-Hist provides sinus support by breaking down mucus and stabilizing cells that release histamine.

Sinus infections