Allergy or a cold? Here's how to tell the difference

 29 Mar 2016 - 12:11

Allergy or a cold? Here's how to tell the difference
A girl with a runny nose. A catarrh can by a symptom of a common cold or of an allergy. (File photo / Silvia Marks / dpa)


Cologne: When children sniffle, sneeze and wipe their noses on their sleeves or parents recoil when they find a stash of used tissues stuffed in their jacket pockets, either a cold or an allergy could be to blame.

But how can parents tell whether the runny nose, sore throat and watery eyes are caused by a common-cold virus or by something allergenic in the air?

Here are some doctors' tips to help distinguish between the two.


- starts slowly

- happens year-round, but more common during rainy or winter months

- usually lasts 10 days or less

- often comes with fever

- nasal discharge is initially watery; later thickens and takes on a yellow or green color


- rapid onset

- commonly occurs at a specific time of year, like when certain plants are in bloom

- can last weeks or even months

- associated most with itchy, watery eyes

- nasal discharge is thin and clear

The only way to be 100-per-cent certain of the cause is a doctor's visit, but before making an appointment, experts recommend parents come prepared.

One way to do this is by keeping an allergy journal, a notebook where parents write down their observations and what their child has eaten or come in contact with.

This is very helpful, experts said, as allergies can be triggered by more than just pollen. Animal hair, dust mites, foods and mould are other common allergy triggers.

Parents should also watch closely to note when their child's symptoms worsen or improve.