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Is it a Cold, an Allergy, or the Flu?

Do you have a Cold, an Allergy, or the Flu?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Each year, millions of work and school days are missed because of colds, allergies, and the flu, especially when heading into their prime season. How you can best treat your condition depends on whether it’s a cold, an allergy or the flu that’s ailing you. Since these diseases share many of the same symptoms, they’re sometimes hard to tell apart.

Complicating the problem, many people get bad allergies in the fall, when ragweed pollen peaks in many areas, and winter can bring its own allergies as people spend more time indoors around pet dander and house dust mites. When the sniffles, stuffy nose and coughing begin, this chart can help you decide how to handle your symptoms.

Symptoms Airborne Allergy Cold Flu
Cough Sometimes Common, hacking cough Common, can become severe
General Aches, Pains Never Slight Usual, often severe
Fatigue, Weakness Sometimes Sometimes Usual, can last up to 3 weeks
Itchy Eyes Common Rare or Never Rare or Never
Sneezing Usual Usual Sometimes
Sore Throat Common Common Sometimes
Runny Nose Common Common Sometimes
Stuffy Nose Common Common Sometimes
Fever Never Rare Usual, High (100˚ – 102˚F), sometimes higher especially in younger children); lasts 3-4 days
Duration Weeks (for example, 6 weeks for ragweed or pollen seasons 3 to 14 Days Up to 3 weeks
Treatment Antihistamines

Nasal Steroids




Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatrory medicines

-Aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches, pains and fever

-Antiviral Medicines (see your doctor)

Prevention Avoid those things that you are allergic to like pollen, house dust mites, mold, pet dander, cockroaches, etc. Wash your hands often

Avoid contact with anyone with a cold

-Wash your hands often

-Avoid close contact with anyone with the flu

-Annual vaccination aka “flu shot”

-Antiviral medicines (see your doctor)

Complications -Sinus Infection


-Sinus Infection or Congestion

-Middle Ear Infection




-Can be Life Threatening

Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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