Suffering from a sore throat, stuffy nose and nasty cough. Feeling feverish and fatigued? How can you tell if these symptoms are due to a cold, the flu or allergies?

Not easily, sometimes, because all three ailments share many of the same symptoms. They all affect the respiratory system and can make breathing difficult. All three can also cause coughing, sneezing and a runny nose.

Correctly identifying the source of your symptoms, is important however because it will ensure you don’t take the wrong medication, which will either be ineffective or may even aggravate your symptoms (for example, antibiotics are useless in treating allergies or the common cold).

So how can you identify the reason why you’re feeling so terrible and properly treat your symptoms? This table may help.

SYMPTOMS

COMMON COLD

FLU

ALLERGIES

FEVER

Rare

High fever
lasts 3 to 4 days

Never

HEADACHE

Rare

Frequent
(sometimes severe)

Rare

ACHES & PAINS

Sometimes
(Mild)

Frequent
(sometimes acute)

Never

FATIGUE & WEAKNESS

Sometimes

Frequent
(can last up to 3 weeks)

Sometimes

EXTREME FATIGUE

Never

Frequent
(from onset)

Never

RUNNY/STUFFY NOSE

Frequent

Parfois

Courant

SNEEZING

Frequent

Sometimes

Frequent

SORE THROAT

Frequent

Sometimes

Sometimes

COUGH

Frequent

Frequent

(can become severe)

Sometimes

ITCHY, WATERY EYES

Rare

Rare

Frequent

Treatment

Keep in mind that colds and the flu are caused by viruses whereas allergies are caused by allergens.

To heal either a cold or the flu, it’s especially important to get lots of rest and drink lots of fluids. To overcome seasonal allergies, the ideal solution is to avoid all contact with the allergen. If that’s not possible, pain medication like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help to relieve your pain, fever, headache and sore throat symptoms. Decongestants will only treat your nasal congestion, and antihistamines will help to reduce some of the symptoms of an allergy attack, such as watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing and itching.

Prevention

Colds

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid coming into contact with anyone who has cold symptoms.

Flu

  •  Get vaccinated each year.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid coming into contact with anyone who has flu symptoms.

Allergies

  • Avoid allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mould, animal dander, etc.

While there’s no miracle cure, having a healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep your cold, flu or allergy symptoms to a minimum. Take care of yourself, get plenty of rest, eat well and avoid smoking. Also keep allergies under control because if your upper airways are inflamed, it’s that much easier to come down with a cold or the flu.