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You've got the whole miserable package: sneezing, sniffling, a stuffy nose, and an itchy throat. With these kinds of symptoms, you probably have a cold. Then again, allergies can cause very similar symptoms. So which one is it -- a cold or allergies?

Before you open your medicine cabinet and start searching for relief, it's important to know which type of medicine you need.

When you're not sure what's bugging you, try these three simple tests. They'll help you figure out whether you've got an allergy problem or just a run-of-the-mill cold.

Cold vs. Allergies: What Are Your Symptoms?

A runny nose and sneezing won't tell you for sure whether you have a cold or allergies because they can be signs of either condition. But some symptoms are more unique to either colds or allergies.

To help narrow it down, check your symptoms against this list:

 

Cold                            

Allergies

Aches and pains

Sometimes

No

Itchy, watery eyes

Rarely

Yes

Runny nose

Yes -- mucus is thick, yellow, or green

Yes --mucus is thin, clear 

Fever

Rarely

No

Sneezing

Yes

Yes

Sore or scratchy throat

Yes

Sometimes

Stuffy nose

Yes

Yes

Fatigue

Sometimes (mild)

Sometimes

Cough

Yes

Sometimes

 

Cold vs. Allergy: What's the Season?

If you're sneezing and sniffling in April and your car is coated with yellow-green pollen, you may be able to point to an obvious cause -- seasonal allergies, or hay fever. This is especially true if you get the same symptoms at about the same time every year.

Colds can hit at any time of year -- even during spring and summer -- although they're most common when the weather gets chilly.

How fast your symptoms occur can also determine what's ailing you. Allergies often start almost immediately after you're exposed to your trigger. For example, if you've got pollen allergies, as soon as that pollen makes its way up your nostrils, you may have symptoms.

Cold germs typically take one to three days to make you sick. If your nose is starting to twitch and you realize you were sitting next to a sneezer at the movie theater two nights ago, a cold may be the culprit.

Cold vs. Allergy: How Long Have Symptoms Lasted?

Colds generally linger for three days to about a week, but symptoms can persist up to two weeks in some people. Starting to feel better after a couple of days is a sign you're probably on the mend from a cold. If you're getting worse, your cold may have evolved into a bacterial infection. If symptoms last more than one to two weeks or get worse after about 5 days, you should see a doctor.

Allergy symptoms will last for as long as you're exposed to the offending substance. So if you're allergic to cat dander, once you leave your grandmother's apartment and with it her prized Persian cat, your sniffles should subside. If your trigger is pollen and you spend most of the spring months outdoors, you could be fighting symptoms for the whole season.

Allergy Symptom Poll

When are your nasal allergy symptoms the worst?

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