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How to tell the difference between the common cold, flu and allergies

The Differences Between Allergies, the Common Cold, and Influenza

You feel that first tickle of irritation in your throat, followed by the inevitable runny nose, watery eyes, multiple sneezes, and persistent coughing. You start to wonder if you have those pesky seasonal allergies, if you're developing one of those lingering colds or viruses, or worse, what if you're developing the flu? The symptoms of allergies, the common cold, and the flu tend to mimic each other, but there are subtle differences. How can you discern which one you have?

The Flu

Symptoms of the flu

A big indicator that a person might have the flu is when the following symptoms suddenly occur:

When you become infected with the flu virus, you usually have a high fever, above 101 degrees. There is a finite start and ending to having the flu, doctors say. The symptoms come on quickly, and end about one to two weeks after you become infected. 

A major way to combat your chances of getting the flu, or having milder symptoms is to get the annual flu shot. While it's not 100% effective in preventing all strains of the flu virus, it does protect you against some. Like any vaccination, the flu shot is there to protect you, help you launch an immune response to the real infection if you are exposed to the flu, and if you do contract influenza, the vaccine will hopefully help you recover from the illness quicker with milder symptoms.

The Common Cold

Symptoms of the common cold

A major difference between the cold and flu is that a cold will most likely not give you a high fever and/or body aches. Fevers signaling a cold are generally low-grade, between 99 and 100 degrees. These fevers also do not typically last as long in someone who has a cold as opposed to the flu. 

In addition, a cold or virus typically operates on a schedule, meaning that they have an order of which symptoms come first. Symptoms that signal a cold include:

  • Sore throat - often develops in the beginning of a cold
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Cough - this is likely to occur once congestion begins to clear, and the cough typically lasts for a few days.

One myth that is important to debunk is that mucus color doesn't necessarily indicate an infection. If you have green mucus, that doesn't mean that you need an antibiotic. You can begin the day with yellow-green mucus when you have a viral infection, but as long as that mucus gets lighter in color and thinner in consistency as the day progresses, then you shouldn't need an antibiotic.

Most colds actually are viral and do not require antibiotics. Antibiotics are only useful in bacterial infections, and don't usually provide relief in viral cases. 


symptoms of allergies

A signal that you have allergies instead of a cold or the flu is when your mucus is clear, as opposed to yellow or green. The mucus also tends to be a little bit more runny. 

Changes in weather can bring on allergies since there are more irritants in the environment that people may come in contact with. Those irritants might cause mild allergies with symptoms that include:

Mild allergies can with can be helped with over the counter allergy medications, antihistamines, and nasal sprays. Exposure to excessive heat can cause issues with your nose as well. If you are exposing your nose to too much heat, it can dry out the mucosa in your nostrils, causing irritations. Excessive exposure to heat also can cause the mouth and throat to feel dryer because the heat is soaking up moisture that the body needs.

Hopefully, by examining the symptoms above, you will be able to better discern what you may have and how to effectively treat it. Here at Mountainside Medical, we offer treatments and over the counter medicine for all of these symptoms, and more! Be sure to visit our website at, or call one of our friendly associates at 1-888-687-4334 for any questions!

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