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Differences Between an Allergy and a Cold

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.



Allergy Statistics

An allergy occurs when your body reacts to a foreign substance (exposed to an allergen). Allergies occur in 7.7% of adults and 7.2% of children in the United States. Allergies occur in 7% of people in Australia but only 2% of the people in Europe.

Anaphylaxis (an acute allergic reaction to an antigen) occurs in about 1,000 people worldwide annually. Approximately 20-30% of people with asthma have pet allergies.

The Body’s Response

Your immune system is designed to protect your body from outside invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. However, it sometimes produces antibodies as a response (histamine) to something that is normally not harmful, like certain foods or medications. Researchers do not know why allergies occur, but they know that allergies can be genetically passed down from generation to generation.

Several conditions fall under the allergy umbrella, including anaphylaxis, food allergies, skin allergies, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and allergic asthma. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease conducted a joint study in 2019, which found 26 million (10.8%) of adults had food allergies with shellfish being the most common.

Histamine: The Stuff Allergies Are Made Of

The Most Common Allergies

Food allergies are becoming more common, but the most common allergies overall include:

  • Animal products, such as pet dander, dust mite waste and cockroaches
  • Common foods, such as shellfish, wheat, nuts, milk and eggs
  • Drugs, such as penicillin and sulfa drugs
  • Insect stings, such as bees, wasps and mosquito bites
  • Mold, such as airborne spores from poison ivy or poison oak
  • Pollens from grass, weeds, trees and resin
  • Latex gloves or the latex found in condoms
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Metals, like nickel

Allergy Symptoms

Pollen, pet dander or bee venom can cause the immune system to react, but it doesn’t cause an adverse reaction in the majority of people.

Hay Fever symptoms can cause:

  • Itching of the eyes, nose or the roof of the mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Red, watery or swollen eyes (conjunctivitis)

Insect stings may cause:

  • Large area of edema (swelling) at the site of the sting
  • Hives or itching all over the body
  • Chest tightness, cough, wheezing and/or shortness of breath
  • Anaphylaxis

Food Allergies may cause:

  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, throat or face
  • Tingling in the mouthHives
  • Anaphylaxis

Seasonal Allergies that are caused by plant pollen may cause:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

Drug allergies can cause:

  • Hives
  • Itchy skin
  • Wheezing
  • Facial swelling
  • Rash
  • Anaphylaxis
Scroll to Continue

Atopic dermatitis (also called eczema) can cause the skin to redden, flake, peel or itch.

Allergy Skin prick Test\

Allergy Skin prick Test\

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a serious reaction to your exposure to allergens, and this is a life-threatening emergency. It can cause you to go into shock. Any allergen can cause anaphylaxis.

The signs of anaphylaxis may include:

  • A sudden narrowing of the airways
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • A rapid, weak heart rate
  • Possible swelling of the tongue and mouth
  • Skin rash
  • A drop in your blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A loss of consciousness
Epikutanni test - allergy test

Epikutanni test - allergy test

Allergy Diagnosis

If you have some of the symptoms listed above, you probably have allergies. The doctor has several methods to diagnose allergies in general and for specific allergies also. A medical history is typically taken with a physical examination, and the doctor may ask you to keep a food diary. An elimination diet may help determine food allergies.

There is a skin prick test and a patch test where a small amount of common allergens are placed just under the skin to look for a reaction. There is also a blood test for food-specific IgE antibodies, which is called a radioallergosorbent test (RAST) or an ImmunoCAP test, which measures the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in your bloodstream. An oral food challenge could also be done, which has you eating more of a specific food and looking for a bad response.

Allergy Treatments

Treatments typically include antihistamines to control the symptoms, which may be over-the-counter or prescriptions. Your treatment will depend on the severity of your allergies.

Common medications include:

  • Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Loratadine (Claritin)
  • Cromolyn sodium (Gastrocrom)
  • Decongestants (Afrin, Suphedrine, PE, Sudafed)
  • Leukotriene modifiers (Singulair, Zyflo)

Singulair is not often prescribed due to possible mental health side effects.

Allergists can give you regular injections over the course of a few years to help get your body used to your allergy. Immunotherapy can help prevent allergy symptoms from ever returning.

People who tend to have severe, life-threatening allergies carry an emergency epinephrine injection (EpiPen, Twinject).

There are natural remedies that are used to prevent allergies. Care must be taken to read the ingredients of natural remedies as they can contain allergens, which will make your symptoms more severe. For example, some essential oils or teas use flowers or plants that can cause sneezing. Each allergy type has a host of natural remedies that will speed up your recovery.

Children’s allergies also have natural options. A health food store is a good place to look for these natural remedies.

It is important to know what allergies you have and how to avoid the seasonal and contact allergens. For example, if you are allergic to dust get your air ducts professionally cleaned. Installing proper air filters is also helpful.

Natural Allergy Cures

Possible Complications of Allergies

The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America states allergic asthma affects about 60% of those people with asthma. Allergies do make existing asthma worse.

Allergies can impact your immune system for prolonged periods of time, and when the immune system is compromised you are more likely to get the common cold or a sinus infection.

When you have hay fever you are more likely to sneeze, cough or have a persistent, contagious cough.

Bacteria or viruses can cause bronchitis as the result of allergies. Acute bronchitis usually ends after several days or weeks. Chronic bronchitis may even linger for months, and it may return frequently.

Babies or young children tend to get common skin allergies, including: eczema, allergic contact dermatitis or hives.

Headaches, fevers and body aches may occur with a cold but not with allergies. A cold may also include a sore throat and a stuffy nose. A cold only lasts from seven to ten days, while allergies have no time limit.




Most of the people with allergies do not have life-threatening consequences. Those that do learn to manage their allergies and how to treat an emergency situation. Avoidance, lifestyle changes and medication usually manage allergies. If you have a larger number of allergies it is a good idea to see an allergist.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Pamela Oglesby


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Lora,

Sulfa drug allergies are fairly common. It is good you don't have other allergies as I have so much trouble with pollen.

I am glad you found this article to be helpful and easy to understand. I appreciate your nice comments. Have a wonderful day!

Lora Hollings on July 20, 2021:

This is an excellent article which can be very helpful in distinguishing colds from allergies. Your article provides a concise and clear method of helping people understand the basic differences. I have an allergy to sulfa drugs and break out in a skin rash if I take them. So I definitely have to stay away from them. Other than that, I don't have a lot of issues with allergies. And I'm very happy about that! Thank you for this helpful article, Pamela.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 20, 2021:

Hi Peace,

I am glad you have learned from my medical articles. I was a RN for many years, and I do research my topics to make sure I am current.

I appreciate your thoughtful comments, as always.

Peace Tobe Dike from Delta State, Nigeria. on July 20, 2021:

This is quite informative, Pamela. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on health related issues. I've honestly gotten to know a lot from reading your articles. Well done!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 19, 2021:

Hi Adrienne,

You make a good point. I think the Delta variant confuses things even more.

I have allergies also. My husband and Both got the Pfizer vaccines, so I worry less when I am out in public. I try not to rake too many antihistamines as it dries out my mouth so much, but you are right about blowing your nose in public areas.

Some diet changes have helped me. I don't drink wine as I am allergic to the sulfites. I also stay away from milk and milk products as I see to get more congested. That hasn't solved the problem, but it helps.

Thank you so much for your generous comments. I hope you have a wonderful week.

Adrienne Farricelli on July 19, 2021:

With the new Delta variant I am sure many worry about whether they have allergies, just a regular cold or COVID. I guess with normal mask use and social distance, one shouldn't catch colds much often anymore. I am prone though to allergies of many types (dust mites, ragweed etc.) and also my nose is very sensitive to temperature changes, so a runny nose and sneezing is very common with me. I now take antihistamines because it's very unpractical and maybe even dangerous removing the face mask to blow your nose in public areas.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 18, 2021:

Hi Linda,

I do think it is important to know about allergies, and I sure agree that they are annoying.

I appreciate your comments, as always.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 18, 2021:

Allergies are annoying, and as you say, they can sometimes be dangerous. It's important to know about them. Thank you for sharing the information, Pamela.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 17, 2021:

Hi Peggy,

I have used over-the-counter medications and found them to be very helpful.

I'm glad you liked the article. I appreciate your comments. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 17, 2021:

Good article, Pamela. I do have seasonal allergies. I take over-the-counter antihistamines that seem to help.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 17, 2021:

Hi Devika,

I think you are right about seasonal versus a one time allergy. I hope your son's allergies aren't to serious.

I am glad you found this article informative and interesting. Thank you for your nice comments. Have a wonderful weekend!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 17, 2021:

Hi Manatita,

It does seem that allergies are on the increase, and I wonder if it is due to preservatives. I didn't read that but it makes you wonder.

I am glad you found this article useful I appreciate your comments, as always. Have a wonderful weekend!

manatita44 from london on July 17, 2021:

Very useful hub, Pamela. Allergies seem to be on the increase in some places. You have covered the difference between an allergy and anaphylaxis quite well.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 17, 2021:

Pamela This reminds me of when I had allergies from a fabric softener it caused hives and I had no idea that will happen to me. Certain allergies just happen in a one time series and other allergies are seasonal. In Spring I don't have these allergies. My son is allergic but I don't have the allergies he has. Interesting and informative about allergies and a cold.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 17, 2021:

Hi Brenda,

I love cats also, and I had a blood test that showed I was not allergic to them. I can't explain why you sneeze every time you eat. A specific food would make more sense.

I'm glad you liked the article. I always appreciate your comments. Have a wonderful weekend!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 17, 2021:

Hi Denise,

Some springs have more pollen than others also, and this spring was really bad where I live. I ended up with bronchitis this year. I hope your husband can find some medication that helps with his symptoms.

Thank you for your comments. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 16, 2021:

I'm so grateful I don't have any allergies, but my husband suffers every spring from pollen. His eyes water and he has a runny nose but that's all. Still, it is miserable for him because it lasts for a month or more.



BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on July 16, 2021:

This is a fantastic article.

It covers so much.

They say I'm allergic to cats, bit I'd never stop loving them.

I think I'm allergic to food because I sneeze everytime i eat.

No matter what or where i eat.

Doctors are clueless.

Great article though. I enjoyed reading this one.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Alyssa,

I have the same issue. I am not allewrgic to cats, but pollen and dust are bad. I had a blood test done to see if I was allergic to csats and I had one I adored at that time. Thank goodness the test cam back negative.

I'm glad you found the article to be interesting, I appreciate your coments. I hope you have a lovely weekend as well.

Alyssa from Ohio on July 16, 2021:

The proverbial question... especially nowadays. I never had problems growing up, but as an adult I became allergic to cats... which is so sad because I love them! I've also noticed as I've gotten older that I need a Claritin once in a while thanks to pollen and dust. Isn't that weird? This article was very interesting. I knew about the patch test, but I didn't realize they could do a blood test. Thank you for the information, Pamela! I hope you have a lovely weekend!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Sp,

It does seem like more people have allergies now, like you said to pollen, cats and to dust. At least there are treatments that reduce the misery of allergies.

I am glad you found the article interesting. I appreciate your comments. Have a great weekend.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi MG,

Acupuncture can be so healing for so many health problems. I am glad your treatment was successful.

I am glad you found the article interesting. Thank you for taking the time to read and for commenting.

I hope you have a good weekend.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 16, 2021:

Very interesting article. I do have an allergy to strong dust but on a visit to China I had a 2 hr session of acupuncture and I haven't had it again.I do get cold sometimes but a cinerest tab helps out. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on July 16, 2021:

Very interesting article. So many people now it seems are more susceptible to allergies. I know many people that are allergic to pollen or cat dander. It definitely an adjustment for people who never had allergies before to deal with.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Umesh,

I am glad you found this article to be informative and useful.

Thank you so much for your comments. Have a good weekend.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on July 16, 2021:

Very informative and useful article.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Rosina,

I don't believe acne is an allergy, but many of us had acne as teenagers. Thank goodness it usually goes away as we age. I'm sure you have to take good care of your skin since it is oily. The good news is you probably won't get wrinkles at a young age.

I am glad you found this article informative. Thank you for your comments, as always. I hope you have a very good weekend also.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Linda,

It seems like we hear of more children with food allergies these days. I feel bad for him. I hope the immunotherapy really helps him. I have a granddaughter that is allergic to eggs, among other things, and that is a challenge also. Your allergies are easier as you just don't take those medications.

I am glad you liked the article, and I appreciate your comments. I hope you have a good weekend.

Rosina S Khan on July 16, 2021:

Is acne a kind of allergy, Pamela? My face was full of pimples as a teenager. Now that I am much older and into my adult years, I occasionally have them on my face when it gets oily. I have to keep my face very clean and free from oil most of the time and then I am okay.

Thank you for this wonderful article. At least now I know the difference between cold and allergies. Wish you a good weekend.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on July 16, 2021:

A very well-organized article Pamela. My only allergies are to sulfa drugs and Percodan/Percocet. (I'm really glad I don't have food allergies). My Godson is highly allergic to fish, shellfish, peanuts, walnuts and wheat. (Cooking for him can be a challenge). He is 13 and is going to immunotherapy to help overcome some of his problems.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Chitrangada,

Your college experience is not unusual, and I am glad you do longer have that problem.

I am glad you found this article informative. The good news is that allergies can be treated as you said.

Thank you for reading and for commenting, my friend. I read your excellent article too, but I have not been able to find it in may feed yet to comment. I will keep looking.

Have a wonderful weekend. Blessings.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 16, 2021:

This is a very well written and informative article about the allergies. The causes, symptoms and treatments, which you have mentioned are noteworthy. I am sure this will educate many of us readers, about allergies.

The good news is that there are medicines to cure these allergies.

During my college days, I had experienced drug allergy. It took a long time to go away, and I had to be on medication and avoid certain foods etc. for a longer time.

As always, a valuable article with useful information.

Thank you for sharing.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Ms Dora,

I am glad you found this article to have good information.

Thank you so much for your comments. I hope you have a nice weekend.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi John,

It is strange how you can live a fairly long time and suddenly develop allergies. Wine has sulfites, which causes your wife's problem. Alcohol does not have them. I have the same problem. I hope your wife's itching goes away.

I am glad you found the article interesting. I appreciate your comments.

Have a nice weekend!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 16, 2021:

Very good information on allergies, diagnosis and treatments. Thanks for differentiating between colds and allergies.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Liz,

You make a good point. I didn't thank about the Delta variant of COVID. High pollen counts are a problems for people with allergies. I'm sorry to hear the pollen counts are high in the UK. We also had very high pollen counts this spring, so I ended up with bronchitis.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Have a wonderful weekend!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 16, 2021:

A very interesting article, Pamela. My wife seems to have developed allergies to a number of different things in just the last couple of years. She can no longer drink wine, and has also had an allergic reaction (itch) as a result of the latest flu vaccine so has been prescribed claratine (Loratadine) for that.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 16, 2021:

This is a very well-presented, relevant and interesting article. Weather reports in the UK include pollen level indicators at this time of the year for hay fever sufferers. A further complication this year is that I have heard of a runny nose being a symptom of the Delta variant of COVID.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Hi Peg,

The man in that picture has quite a severe case.

I wonder why you broke out in hives? It had to be something in the air, but what? We just got back from a week in TX, and we drove through an absolutely torrential downpour. Then, the head was similar to what we have here.

I appreciate your comments, and I wish you good health in the future.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:

Good morning, my boring friend,

At lest Bev found out the source of the problem. That is one of my allergies too, so we had some kind of air purifier in the bedroom.

I am not surprised you don't have allergies s I think you are the healthiest man I know. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a great weekend!

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on July 16, 2021:

Quite informative. That photo of the guy with allergies makes me itch. I was locked out of my house one afternoon in 100 plus degree heat and the next day I broke out in hives. First time ever for me and I hope, the last. It was awful. Thanks for sharing your medical expertise with your readers.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 16, 2021:

My wife is allergic to dust mites. For years they thought she had asthma. Me, nothing, and I can't remember the last cold I had. I'm soooo boring sometimes. :) Happy Weekend, my friend.

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