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Am I Sick or Is It Allergies?

I am frequently asked whether nasal symptoms are consistent with an infection or allergies. Frequently, patients with colds or ongoing sinus infections are referred to my office for “allergies.” Both often result in stuffy and runny noses, as well as sneezing and coughing. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference, especially if symptoms are mild. Here are a few rules of thumb that help point to one or the other.


A fever is often associated with viral and bacterial infections, but would not be a symptom of allergy. If a fever is present, allergy is not the cause.

Sore throat

Colds and sinus infections frequently cause sore throats, but allergies rarely do. If a sore throat is present, it is most often an infection.

Feeling tired and achy

Fatigue and muscle aches are not an allergic symptom but often accompany a cold.

Itchy and watery eyes

Though eyes can be irritated with cold, itchy and watery eyes are more often symptoms of allergies.

Duration of symptoms

Allergy symptoms last as long as an allergic person is exposed to the allergen. For instance, tree pollination in the spring will last for weeks, and so allergy symptoms will, too. If someone is allergic to dogs and is exposed to dogs, they will have symptoms. But getting away from the dog will resolve the symptoms in a day or two. Colds are usually problematic for one to two weeks.

Onset and progression of symptoms

Usually, allergy symptoms are fairly abrupt in onset, whereas a cold will develop gradually over a few days. Allergy symptoms usually remain fairly constant, but cold symptoms often evolve from stuffy, runny nose to sore throat to cough, etc.

Hopefully, these tips will help you tell the difference between allergies and infections. If symptoms are persistent or difficult to distinguish, see your doctor for a thorough evaluation and treatment. If symptoms prove difficult to control, your doctor may recommend further evaluation with a board-certified allergist. Call 903-877-8481 to schedule your appointment.


Information provided by Jonathan W. Buttram, MD, FACP, board-certified allergist and immunologist who practices at UT Health North Campus Tyler. To schedule an appointment, call 903-877-8481.

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