What Are the Differences Between Colds and Allergies?


Quick Answer

The difference between a cold and an allergy lies in what causes each condition, according to WebMD. An overactive immune system reacts to substances in the environment and produces allergic symptoms. A cold is caused by viruses.

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Full Answer

Allergies occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks a substance as if it was an infectious agent, notes WebMD. By releasing histamine, the body induces symptoms such as congestion and sneezing. The symptoms are similar to those produced by the viral infections that cause colds. Allergies may be prevented by avoiding potential allergens, while viral infections can be prevented by avoiding sick individuals.

Colds are self-limiting and resolve in three days to two weeks.

Allergies can last for weeks or months as long as the offending agent is present. Colds are usually seen more often in the winter, while allergies are seasonal. Colds develop within days of exposure to a virus, but allergies can start almost as soon as exposure to an allergen occurs, explains WebMD. Although symptoms overlap, there are differences. Colds may rarely involve a fever but allergies never do. Likewise, colds are often associated with body aches but not allergies. Both sore throats and cough are more common with a cold. Itchy, watery eyes are symptomatic of allergies but not colds.

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