Recent Blog Articles
Listening to your hunger cues
Does your child need to bathe every day?
Can flavonoids help fend off forgetfulness?
Can physical or cognitive activity prevent dementia?
Wondering how much your medical care will cost? New rules could help
Long-lasting healthy changes: Doable and worthwhile
The sore throat checklist: What parents need to know
A new treatment for obesity
Remember the flu? Yep, it's that time again
3 ways to build brain-boosting social connections
Diseases & Conditions
Is it a cold or allergies?
Ask the doctors
Q. I feel like I have a perpetual cold all winter, every winter. I'm stuffy and sneezy and it never seems to get better. Do you think it could be allergies? How can I tell the difference?
A. Colds and allergies produce many of the same symptoms: a runny nose, tiredness, and sometimes a sore throat. But they have different causes — a virus causes colds, while allergies are an immune system response to trigger substances, known as allergens. There are ways to distinguish one from the other. Colds sometimes produce a fever, but allergies never do. In addition, if you are suffering from allergies, you may also have itchy, watery eyes, symptoms that won't typically accompany a cold. But perhaps the biggest clue that can help you distinguish between a cold and allergies is the duration of symptoms. Cold symptoms rarely last more than two weeks, but allergies can last as long as you are exposed to the substance that is triggering the reaction. So, if your "cold symptoms" appear at the same time every year and last for an extended period of time, the cause may very well be allergies. Many people with seasonal allergies will experience symptoms for six weeks at a time. If you are allergic to something in your home, such as dust mites, mold, or pet dander, your symptoms could get worse during the winter months, because the house is sealed up and fresh air isn't getting in. In addition, your heating system may be recirculating the allergen. Because your symptoms last for an extended period of time, it may be worth a visit to the allergist.
To continue reading this article, you must log in.
Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.
- Research health conditions
- Check your symptoms
- Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
- Find the best treatments and procedures for you
- Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.Sign Me Up
Already a member? Login ».
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.