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Is it allergies or a cold?

If you’re suffering from symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, and fatigue, it can be difficult to tell what’s going on.

Is it a cold, or is it an allergy?

This can be especially challenging during late winter and early spring, when cold and flu season, as well as allergy season, are in full swing.

Fortunately, there are a few typical telltale signs that tend to differentiate the two. Once you figure out whether you’re suffering from allergies or a cold, you can seek the appropriate treatment, manage your symptoms, and get on with the business of living your life.


This is one of the easiest ways to tell whether you have a common cold, or are having an allergic reaction such as hayfever.

Allergies are caused by foreign substances that trigger a response in the body. Therefore, you are likely to only experience symptoms when you are exposed to the trigger. Of course, if you don’t know what it is specifically that is triggering your allergic reaction, this can be difficult to figure out.

A common complaint that we hear from our patients with allergies, particularly those who suffer from hayfever, or allergic rhinitis, is that their symptoms tend to get a lot worse when hayfever season begins. This is typically from late winter to early spring, when there is a lot of pollen in the air. During this time, you may experience symptoms for weeks or even months at a time.

On the other hand, you’ll typically only experience symptoms of a cold for one week, sometimes up to two.


With allergies, including hayfever, symptoms will usually come on as soon as you’re exposed to the allergen. For example, if your trigger is pollen and you go outside during a high-pollen day, you’ll most likely experience symptoms immediately.

Colds, on the other hand, tend to come on more gradually. There’s an incubation period of a few days, which means that you’ll develop symptoms a few days after you’re exposed to the virus. Most people experience mild symptoms at first, such as a sore throat, and then symptoms will worsen over the next several days to include sneezing, a sore throat, headaches and fatigue.


Allergies and colds share quite a few symptoms. These include:

  • Sneezing

  • A runny nose

  • A blocked nose

  • Fatigue

  • Coughing

Hover, there are also some symptoms that are different.

Symptoms that are specific to allergies include:

  • A rash

  • Itchy eyes

  • An itchy throat

  • Wheezing

Symptoms that you may experience from a cold, but not hayfever, include:

  • Slight aches and pains

  • A sore throat

  • A fever

One symptom that may help you distinguish between allergies and a cold is the colour and texture of your nasal discharge. Often with allergies, the discharge will be clear and thin or runny. A cold may present with a thicker discharge that’s yellow or green in colour. However, this isn’t always the case, so it shouldn’t be relied on as a distinguishing factor.

Of course, it’s also important to be mindful of COVID-19. If you’re experiencing a fever, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath, it’s essential that you speak to your doctor and consider a test for COVID-19. This minor inconvenience can go a long way to protecting not only you but people in your household or community. Remember to stay home and isolate in between the time that you’re tested and when you get your results.

If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing allergies, a cold, or something more serious, speak to your GP or your local Capital Chemist pharmacist. We respectfully ask that if you’re feeling unwell that you call ahead instead of coming into the pharmacy.
Hayfever brochure (444KB PDF) 

You may also be interested in the following:

You can’t sanitise away allergies

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Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.