cold flu or allergies how to tell the differenceNow that winter is in full force, flu season is upon us as well. However, the flu has very similar symptoms to both the common cold and allergies. How can you tell the difference between these ailments, with similar symptoms but different treatments? We’ve put together a helpful guide.

How to Identify the Source

Do you have these symptoms: sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose; coughing; itchy nose and throat; and dark circles under the eyes? If so, you probably have either a cold, the flu, or allergies. Which one? It can be hard to tell the difference, but you can check what we call the 3Ts. These are: 

  • Time – Flu and cold symptoms typically appear gradually and clear gradually over the course of a few days. On the other hand, allergic reactions occur almost immediately upon contact with the allergen and can last a long time, even year-round if you’re continuously exposed to the allergen.
  • Treatment – Flu and cold viruses have to run their course. Some symptoms can be reduced with medication, but for the most part, they have to be left to run their course. If the flu doesn’t get better with time, you should consult a doctor for treatment. On the other hand, allergy symptoms can usually be resolved with a proper antihistamine. If your symptoms clear right up with medication, it’s allergies. 
  • Temperature – If you have a fever, you more than likely have the flu or a cold. Allergies don’t usually cause a rise in temperature. 

Once you can determine what you’re suffering from, you can begin to treat your illness. If you have a cold or flu, you should rest and drink a lot of fluids. If your symptoms don’t improve, see a doctor. While waiting for your cold and flu to get better usually works, that’s not the cause for allergies. If you don’t remove the allergen from your environment, your symptoms will never improve. So what do you do?

How to Treat Allergies

The first step to treating your allergies is understanding the allergens. You probably already know what you’re allergic to based on when you get allergy symptoms. If you don’t know, a doctor can test you to see what you’re allergic too. There are three general categories of allergens:

  • Outdoor Allergens — One of the most common outdoor allergens is ragweed, which is very prevalent in the fall is responsible for 75% of reactions in people with hay fever allergies. Another big outdoor allergen this time of year is mold, which can lurk in the stalks of your favorite corn maze or hay bale ride, not to mention all those beautiful mounds of multi-colored leaves.
  • Indoor Allergens — Unfortunately, there are indoor allergens as well. Common indoor allergens include dust mites and pet dander. Studies show that even homes without pets in them have animal dander inside, brought in from other houses and the outdoors on clothes and shoes. 
  • Airborne Allergens — Airborne allergens like pollen originate outside, but because they are carried in the air, they end up inside the home as well. They are most commonly carried in through open doors and windows into homes. These are allergens that you can’t seem to escape whether you’re indoors or out. 

Now that you can identify the source of your allergens you can begin to reduce your exposure to your allergens so that you can feel better. For outdoor and airborne allergens, you can watch air quality reports and try to spend the most time outside on days when the air is cleaner. For indoor allergens and airborne allergens inside the home, there are some things that you can do to make your time at home more comfortable and allergen-free. There are easy to remember because they are the 3Rs.

  • Reduce — Installing a high-quality furnace filter with a minimum filtration rating of MERV 8 to attract and capture airborne allergens like pollen, dust, and dander, and vacuuming your carpets and rugs once or twice a week with a three-stage HEPA filter vacuum will help reduce allergens in your home. Reduce the amount of allergens in your home by replacing the filters in your home. These will capture pollen, dust, dander, and more that are in your air. Your filters should be changed regularly, and you should use a filter with a minimum filtration rating of MERV 8. You should also use a vacuum with a good filter to clean your carpets at least once a week. 
  • Remove — One of the best ways to remove allergens in your home is to get your carpets and furniture cleaned by a professional cleaner. Allergens from the air tend to settle into the fibers of your carpet and furniture that a vacuum can’t completely remove. John’s Chem-Dry of Whatcom County can remove 98% of allergens from carpets and upholstery, leaving your home a much healthier place. 
  • Relieve — Your doctor can help you find a medication that will help relieve your allergy symptoms. There are also drugstore medications that can help as well. 


We hope that you and your family are healthy this winter, but if not we hope that this guide helps you to understand what’s making you sick!