You don’t feel well. Is it a cold, allergies, or worse?

It’s not that easy to tell the difference. And it’s even harder when nature changes up its schedule and some people’s allergies crop up at different, unexpected times of the year.1 Plus, now that we’re adding COVID-19 to the mix, it’s all the more important to be able to tell the difference between these maladies.

How do you know if it’s a cold?

A cold starts when a rhinovirus infects your upper respiratory tract – what we commonly call the nose and throat. That pesky virus considers fall and winter its busy time of year, when the air is dry and people are often huddled together in enclosed spaces. When the virus hits, your immune system sends out a protein called antibodies to square off with the invader. After 7 to 10 days, that cold is usually done, though sometimes the symptoms do linger longer. It's a good idea to breathe in steam, drink plenty of warm water and reach for OTC nasal spray if necessary. Always follow the instructions.1

How are allergies different?

The most obvious sign that you’re dealing with allergies rather than a cold is that allergy symptoms usually come on stronger and last longer. They’re also often environment-dependent, so they can kick up when you visit your cat-loving friend.2

Should I be worried about COVID-19?

Among the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, new or worsening cough, fatigue and loss of taste.3 The best course of action is to talk to a health professional about next steps, and consider getting tested if you’re concerned and plan to be around others. Remember that even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, you could be infected with the virus and could spread it to others.

The symptom shortcut

It’s always best to get checked out by a medical professional, but generally, if there’s thick green/yellow mucus, it’s a cold, not allergies. If your eyes are itchy, it’s more likely allergies than a cold. Fever and body aches may also be pointing to a cold.1

Boost that immune system

A strong immune system can help ward off viruses and put up a good fight if they get past your body’s defenses. Eat properly, get the right amount of sleep, and commit to regular, moderate exercise.4,5 And remember, Engineers Canada-sponsored Disability Insurance and Health & Dental Insurance can provide reassurance with a boost of confidence, any time of the year.


1 FNHA, “How Do I Know If It's My Allergies, a Cold or COVID-19?”, July 6, 2022.
2 Reactine, “Cold vs. Allergies”, June 2, 2017.
3 AB Health Services, “Comparison of COVID-19, influenza, common cold, and gastrointestinal (GI) illness”, 2022.
4, “Healthy Eating & Your Immune System”, 2020.
5 UBC, “Can exercise boost your immune system? Yes, but in moderation”, April 29, 2020.