Sore Throat? Colds vs Allergies

Wondering whether your sore throat, sniffling, and sneezing are caused by seasonal allergies or a cold? There are ways to tell the difference, and ways to get relief.

If you live in the Seattle area, one easy way to find out what ails you is to drop by a CareClinic by Kaiser Permanente at Bartell Drugs and a Kaiser Permanente physician assistant or nurse practitioner will give you a quick diagnosis and suggestions for treatment. If that’s not an option, these five tips will help:

1. Think about when your symptoms began

If you remember being around someone who had an upper respiratory infection a few days before you started feeling miserable, you may have caught a viral infection. Viruses are spread by contact with sneezes, coughs, and contaminated surfaces like door handles. Allergies, on the other hand, can begin immediately after coming in contact with seasonal allergy triggers like pollen. If you think you might be suffering from a seasonal allergy, check the pollen count in your area; if levels are high, allergies may be the culprit.

2. Sort through your symptoms

With both allergies and colds, you can experience a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, a cough, and fatigue. Itchy eyes, postnasal drip, and dark circles under your eyes are more common with allergies. A sore throat, cloudy or discolored nasal discharge, fever, and general aches and pains are much more likely to be symptoms of a virus.

3. Notice how long your symptoms last

A cold usually lasts 3–14 days, while allergy symptoms can last for weeks or months—as long as you’re exposed to the allergen you’re reacting to.

4. Treat your symptoms—and only your symptoms

For a cold, get extra rest and drink plenty of fluids—water, tea, or soup with lots of broth. For allergies, shower and change your clothes often, since allergens cling to skin, hair, and clothing. For both colds and allergies, over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, and pain relievers may ease your symptoms, although they won’t make your cold go away any faster. And no matter what ails you, avoid medications that treat multiple symptoms—especially if you don’t even have some of the symptoms.

5. Focus on prevention

To avoid getting and spreading colds, wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth—the most likely places for germs to enter your body. To avoid seasonal allergies, try to limit your contact with the allergens you react to. If your allergies bother you a lot, immunotherapy (such as allergy shots) may help prevent or reduce your symptoms.

If some detective work can’t clearly identify what’s causing your symptoms and you’re still feeling miserable after trying home treatments, a visit to a CareClinic at Bartell Drugs or your allergy doctor may be in order.