Cold, Flu, or Allergies: How to Tell the Difference


This is the time of year I love and hate the most. Hot chocolate, Christmas movies, onesie pajamas, and home-made pies are just a  few reasons I love the fall. Sneezing, running noses, coughing, and watery eyes are just a few reasons I hate this time of year. Especially when all of these symptoms are attached to a kid. They don’t wash their hands, they don’t cover their mouths, they touch you….wiping saliva everywhere. Yuck!  Anyway, a few years ago I discovered that my son had allergies. Seeing as though I have allergies and my mother does too, it makes sense. Still, I had to learn the difference between what it looked like when my son had a cold versus when his allergies were affecting him. To make matters worse this has been predicted to be one of the most treacherous flu seasons yet. So, how do we know the difference between the three? And how do we know when it’s time to take them to seek immediate medical attention?

According to   “The common symptoms of a cold, flu and allergies are a stuffy or a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, a cough, a headache, or even fatigue. Two differing symptoms are a fever or aches/pain, these would not be caused by allergies, but could be due to a cold or the flu. Symptoms of the flu are often more severe than a cold. While the symptoms are similar, the origin of the conditions are different. A cold and the flu are both caused by different viruses, whereas allergies are caused by your immune system reacting to a trigger. Common inhalant allergy triggers are pollen, dust, mold, pet dander.”

Below is a chart describing the differences/similarities in the symptoms.

FEVER Rare High (102-104°F) last
3-4 days
HEADACHE Rare Prominent Common
ACHES, PAINS Slight Usual; often severe Never
Quite Mild Can last up to 2-3
Never Early and prominent Unusual
STUFFY NOSE Common Sometimes Common
SNEEZING Usual Sometimes Common
SORE THROAT Common Sometimes Sometimes
Mild to Moderate,
hacking cough
Common, can become severe Sometimes
COMPLICATIONS Sinus congestion
or earache
Bronchitis, pneumonia; can be life-threatening Asthma, ear infection, sinusitis, bronchitis, nasal polyps
PREVENTION None Annual vaccination; antiviral drugs Controlling environment
TREATMENT Only temporary
relief of symptoms
Antiviral drugs 24-48
hours after onset of
medication, allergy
OCCURRENCE 3-4 times yearly Once yearly Seasonally/


If you believe your child is experiencing allergies it may be best to schedule an appointment with an allergist so you can determine if mold in your home or even a pet can be the  cause. If your child is experiencing symptoms longer than the 7-10 day window its best to seek medical attention to be certain it’s not something more serious. Overall, it is important to pay attention to your children, document their symptoms, and trust your gut when it tells you something isn’t right.

May we keep our babies safe and healthy as possible this season!






photo credit: shutter shock

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s