Cold, Allergy or the Flu?

What Is the Difference in the Symptoms of a Cold, The Flu And Allergies?

Laurie Osgood, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, UF/IFAS Extension, Gadsden County, FL

You’re coming down with something…you have a stuffy nose, you’re coughing and you have a sore throat. Do you have a cold, the flu or seasonal allergies? Because the symptoms can be similar, it is hard to know what you are suffering from. Identifying the differences between symptoms can help you choose the best treatment options. However, you will need to visit your health care provider to know for sure.

The National Institutes of Health says that the flu and the common cold are caused by different viruses. Colds, the flu and allergies can affect your respiratory system, making it hard to breath. However each condition has key symptoms that set them apart. Flu symptoms can be more severe than cold symptoms and can lead to additional complications. Allergy symptoms can be similar, however they are caused by your body’s immune system reacting to a trigger, or allergen such as pollen, or pet dander.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed a chart to compare the symptoms of the cold, the flu and airborne allergies. To learn more about these symptoms, visit NIH @ .

Fever Rare Severe and usually high (100˚- 102˚ F) Never
Headache Uncommon Common Uncommon
General Aches, Pains Slight Usual, sometimes severe Never
Fatigue, Weakness Sometimes Usual, up to 3 weeks Sometimes
Extreme Exhaustion Never Usually at onset of illness Never
Itchy, Watery Eyes Unusual Unusual Common
Stuffy, Runny Nose Common Sometimes Common
Sneezing Usual Sometimes Usual
Sore Throat Common Sometimes Sometimes
Cough Mild to moderate Common, can be severe Sometimes
Chest Discomfort Mild to moderate Common Rare, except for those with allergic asthma
Duration Can last up to two weeks Usually last 1-2 weeks Can last as long as allergens are present
Treatment Get plenty of rest

Stay hydrated

Contact your doctor if symptoms persist

Get plenty of rest

Stay hydrated

See your doctor for flu treatment options

Avoid allergens, such as pollen, mold, pet dander, etc.

See your doctor to determine cause of allergic reactions

Complications Sinus infection middle ear infection, asthma Bronchitis, pneumonia; can be life-threatening Sinus infection, middle ear infection, asthma

The best way to prevent getting sick this season is to wash your hands often, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and if you are sick, stay home. There can be severe complications associated with the flu, so get your flu shot each year and contact your doctor if you suspect that you or a loved one has the flu.

To learn more about colds, the flu or allergies, visit the National Institutes of Health at, or the Center for Disease Control (CDC) at

For more information about UF/IFAS Family and Consumer Sciences Program with the Gadsden County Extension, please contact Laurie Osgood at (850) 875-7255.


Posted: February 5, 2018

Category: , Health & Nutrition

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