• Infectious Diseases A-Z: Cold, flu or allergies?

sick woman with flu or cold wrapped in a blanket drinking tea

As autumn approaches, chances are you, or  your co-workers or family members, will begin sneezing, wheezing or coughing. How can you tell when it's a cold, allergies or the flu? Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist Dr. Pritish Tosh says, during the spring and fall, it can be difficult to discern what is an allergy symptom versus what is a viral upper respiratory illness that is getting passed around.

"It is important to people to make the distinction, somewhat for themselves, and for the people around them," says Dr. Tosh. "If it is a viral respiratory infection, it is important to avoid being around other people and not showing up for work."

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Dr. Tosh says there are a few things you can do to tell if you have an allergy or possible viral respiratory infection. "Allergies should not come along with a fever. If you have a runny nose, cough and sneezing along with a fever, it's probably a viral upper respiratory infection. However, if you have itchy eyes, sneezing and reactions when you go outside or enter a building, it's probably an allergy."

"Good sneezing and cough etiquette is not only polite, it can stop the spread of an illness," adds Dr. Tosh.  "Whether you have an allergy or think you  have a viral respiratory infection, it's important to have good etiquette and do so into the crook of your arm." Dr. Tosh says the old school idea of coughing into your hands can spread more disease.

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