Spring is a beautiful time of year. The trees are blooming and the breeze is blowing—but for many, the side effects of this lovely springtime weather are not worth opening the windows.
If you haven’t been an allergy sufferer your entire life, it can be easy to get the symptoms of colds and allergies confused. For instance, both can cause a runny or stuffy nose. Frustrating, for sure—but there are a few ways to tell whether you’re dealing with a cold or allergies.
Signs You Have A Cold
Colds crop up when a virus causes an infection in the body. The average cold usually gets less intense day by day and runs its course in about seven to 10 days total.
If you have a cold, you may also experience symptoms like a cough, headache, low-grade fever, body aches, or a sore throat. The symptoms often shift or fluctuate throughout the course of a cold.
Also worth noting: When you have a cold and blow your nose, you’ll often notice thick, discolored (greenish or yellow) mucus.
Signs You Have Allergies
While colds are caused by viruses, allergies occur when an outside trigger (such as pollen, dust, or pet dander) causes an immune system response. Because of this, allergy symptoms come and go based on your environment and season. For example, you may have symptoms when outside in the springtime, but no symptoms after you’ve been inside for a while. (This indicates you’re allergic to something in the outside environment, like pollen, trees, or grass.)
Though allergies may be more intense in the first day or two of your exposure to allergens, the intensity of your symptoms generally won’t decline day by day, as with a cold.
Read More: 7 Natural Ways To Survive Allergy Season
In addition to a runny or stuffy nose, an itchy nose and/or eyes also indicates that you’re dealing with allergies. Otherwise, allergies don’t typically cause other symptoms—unless you have a history of respiratory issues, like asthma, which allergies can flare.
Contrary to colds, allergies don’t affect the color and texture of your nasal mucus, so you’ll notice watery, clear mucus when you blow your nose.
If your symptoms come and go depending on where you are, or at certain times of the year, you’re probably dealing with allergies.
Addressing Colds And Allergies
Though certain over-the-counter medicines can help alleviate cold symptoms, they can’t actually cure your cold. The best treatments for a cold? Fluids and rest. (If you want to try a natural alternative to common cold medicines, I recommend Genexa’s homeopathic Cold Crush.)
When it comes to allergies, antihistamine OTCs can reduce symptoms like itchy and/or watery eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose. Steroid nasal sprays (like fluticasone) are the most effective way to address allergy related congestion. Again, though, these products can’t actually change your allergies. Your best bet there is to identify your trigger and avoid it as much as possible.
If you don’t want to address your allergies with an OTC, try an antihistamine alternative like Genexa’s Allergy-D, which uses homeopathic medicine to address common symptoms. (They make a Children’s Allergy-D for the little tykes, too.)
Either way, if you’re dealing with mysterious symptoms for more than two weeks, check in with your doctor to do some more investigating.
Dr. Amy Shah, M.D., is a double board-certified physician with training from Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard Universities. With extensive training in health and nutrition, she advises on increasing energy levels, fixing gut issues, managing allergies, and boosting the immune system. Dr. Shah was recently named one of MindBodyGreen’s Top 100 Women in Wellness to Watch and is a member of Genexa‘s Medical Advisory Board.