Allergy, or Cold? How to Tell What’s Bugging You

By Martin Brown

Allergy, or Cold?In spite of a long and difficult winter, under those piles of snow is new life awakening to the call of spring, and inside those ice covered branches the buds of your favorite tulip trees are slowly beginning to thicken.

If it’s winter, that means spring is not far behind, and in various parts of the country it has already arrived. That brings us to two questions that are often asked this time of year, “Have I got a cold or an allergy? How can I tell the two apart?”

Obviously, when it comes to sinus congestion, scratchy throat, sore eyes, runny nose, and other head and neck symptoms there is a crossover pattern where the line between colds and allergies can blur. Both can also leave us feeling fatigued and experiencing mild discomfort. But in several other ways colds and allergies go their separate ways.

Colds rarely make our eyes itch, allergies quite often do. Additionally, while even a low- grade fever does not frequently occur with a cold, fever is not a component in allergies. While allergies can cause fatigue and mild discomfort, noticeable joint aches such as lower neck and shoulders occur with colds, not allergies. Overall energy levels also deplete noticeably when we have colds and rarely with allergies.

The easiest way to separate allergies and colds is in your mucus. When you sneeze and blow your nose into a tissue take a look at that secretion. If it’s clear and watery in consistency, you’re suffering from an allergy. If your mucus is thicker and particularly if it’s a cloudy white, or yellow, you have a cold. Now, keep in mind that colds, like other infections that invade your body, pass through a cycle, and in the beginning your mucus discharge can be thin and clear and at the end of that cycle as well. But in the four or five days that a cold takes to pass through your system, you’ll see that discharge thicken and become cloudy, and when and if it does, you have a cold.

One last piece of advice: consider healthy natural cures regardless of whether you’re facing a cold or an allergy. Start by increasing your water intake to 96 ounces, four quarts per day. Next, soothe your throat with hot water toped off with honey and lemon. Thyme, sage, and rosemary are all helpful when simmered in a steam pot and the vapors inhaled. Recipes for using all of these in steams and tea drinks are available on many holistic health sites.

Here’s my favorite pill free cure for a cold, believe it or not:


Get a clove, cut it up, cook it up and use it in a dozen different recipes. My favorite way to end a five day cold cycle in just two days, I go to my favorite Chinese restaurant, order any garlic dish, in my case garlic eggplant, and the next morning my cold is gone or on its way out.

Allergies don’t respond to garlic. The most effective way to back down the bothersome symptoms of allergies is herbal teas to soothe the throat, thyme, sage, and rosemary steams to purge those allergens out of your nasal passages, and or, regular shots of saline solution, harmless salt water, cheap and sold everywhere in squeeze bottles, that you take in through your nose, which then goes down your sinus and out your mouth.

With a little luck and a little patience it will carry the allergens you’ve breathed in out of your body–and down the drain.


Martin Brown is the Heath Channel Editor for, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right.

His next book, Fit in 50 Days, will be available March 2011.