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Cold, Flu or Allergies? Know Your Stuff(y) Nose

October 15, 2019
Young man blowing his nose

Do you have a cold, what about the flu, or is it allergies? With similar upper respiratory symptoms including stuffy nose, sore throat and cough, knowing how to differentiate can help you get better, faster.


This time of year, irritants such as dust, mold and pollen get stirred up and hop on the wind superhighway straight into your immune system! A telltale sign that you are suffering from allergies is your mucus. Look at what’s in your tissue – if it’s clear, instead of yellow or green, it’s likely allergies.


The common cold usually lasts about a week and presents more moderate symptoms than the flu, but a cold can still be debilitating. Symptoms associated with a cold typically follow a daily schedule:

  • 1 – 2 Days: Fatigue, sneezing, sore throat
  • 3 – 5 Days: Nasal symptoms and cough
  • 6 – 7 Days: Symptoms lessen

Fevers are not common, but possible, especially in children. Another difference between the common cold and other illnesses is watery nasal discharge that becomes thicker and darker as the illness progresses.


The sudden onset of fever, body aches, cough, fatigue, chills, and night sweats are prominent symptoms of the flu. The fever may reach above 101 degrees and could last around 3-4 days – however, not everyone with the flu develops a fever. Other symptoms can include nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat and loss of appetite. Recovery from the flu can last from a few days to a few weeks. Complications from the flu include dehydration, pneumonia, sinus infections and bronchitis, among other illnesses.  The flu may worsen chronic medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, COPD and heart failure.

Prevention of Viral Illnesses

The best way to prevent getting the flu is to receive the flu vaccination. There’s a common misunderstanding that the flu vaccine can give you the flu virus. However, that isn’t possible because there is no active virus within the flu vaccination. Your immune system reacts to the vaccination as if it is the flu, creating antibodies against the real flu virus.

To prevent infecting others, cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. You should avoid contact with sick people and stay home if you are feeling unwell yourself. Hand washing is key to preventing the spread of viral illnesses. If you find yourself in a situation where washing your hands isn’t feasible, hand sanitizer is a great option.

Treatment of Viral Illnesses

Visit a healthcare provider to determine if you are suffering from a cold, the flu or allergies. If you find yourself with a common cold or fall victim to the dreaded flu virus, you should rest and drink plenty of fluids. To alleviate your symptoms, take over the counter medications such as ibuprofen, Tylenol and cough medicine. Antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, may also be prescribed by a medical provider for those suffering from the flu. These medications ease the symptoms and decrease the length of the illness but are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.

Keep in mind that not every person is the same and illnesses can manifest in different ways depending on your immune system. This means that although you don’t have all the symptoms of an illness, you may still have it. If you are concerned about your health or a loved one’s for any reason, it is important to seek care.

ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care knows your stuffy nose. If you are unsure how to treat a cold, the flu or allergies, visit your nearest ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care! All ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care locations will be offing no-cost flu shots during the month of October. We are here to get you feeling better, faster seven days a week, no appointment necessary – just walk in!

Use this helpful chart to learn the different symptoms associated with a cold, the flu or allergies. If you are unsure about what type of illness you are suffering from, seek advice from your PCP or visit your local ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care. Our exception medical team will be happy to evaluate you and get you feeling better, fast!
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