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What’s the Difference Between a Cold, the Flu and Allergies?

Similar symptoms can make colds, the flu and hay fever hard to distinguish. Learn how to tell the difference.


You’re probably familiar with the symptoms: sore throat, runny nose, cough and fatigue. But how do you know if your symptoms are pointing to allergies, a cold or the flu? A few simple questions can help determine if you’re having an allergic reaction to environmental factors of if you have a cold or flu bug. Once you know, you can treat the cause or the symptoms and feel better sooner.

Do You Have a Fever?
A temperature of 100 F to 102 F is often one of the first signs of the flu. Chills, aches and pains severe enough to send you to bed may accompany this fever. We all know someone who can power through a cold, but it’s often impossible to stay awake or function when the flu strikes.

What Season Is It?
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, flu season in Canada may begin as early as October and can last as late as May, peaking between December and February. In contrast, those experiencing hay fever are symptomatic during spring, summer and early fall. And despite its name, you won’t have a fever with hay fever. It’s an allergic sensitivity to airborne mould spores and pollen from grass, trees and weeds. A stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes can mimic cold symptoms, but once you learn about the allergy symptoms from an allergist, it’s easier to tell the difference.

Has Everyone Caught the Same Bug?
As the name suggests, just about everyone catches the common cold. In fact, colds are so widespread that very few people escape infection each year. Chronic sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, and watery, itchy eyes can make you feel miserable, but you likely won’t get the extreme body aches you experience with the flu. Fever, headache and extreme fatigue are rare with the common cold, which usually clears up within 10 days.

How to Feel Better
Once you know whether you’re dealing with a cold, the flu or allergies, try these tips to feel better sooner:

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