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Is it a cold or allergies?

How to recognize fall allergy symptoms

By Gwen Verchota, PhD, APRN-BC
September 18, 2017

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Fall is in the air. And all of a sudden you have a runny nose and are sneezing.

Your first thought is that you caught a cold. As we start to head back indoors with the cooler weather, viruses seem to spread a little faster. This time of year, I see it all the time – many patients think they have a cold or sinus infection, but they’re actually suffering from allergies.

Allergies tend to hit most people in the spring and the fall. While the symptoms are similar, the causes of fall allergies are different.

Early-year allergies tend to be caused by pollen from flowers and trees. In the fall, people typically experience symptoms triggered by mold spores and ragweed. Either way, these symptoms can get in the way your daily life and make you feel stuffed up and foggy.

Here are common allergy symptoms versus cold symptoms. With both, it’s typical to have a runny nose and sneeze. But other symptoms vary depending on what you actually have.

Symptoms Allergies Cold
SymptomsSneezing AllergiesCommon ColdCommon
SymptomsRunning or stuffy nose AllergiesCommon ColdCommon
SymptomsItchy, watery eyes AllergiesCommon ColdRare
SymptomsItchy ears AllergiesCommon ColdRare
SymptomsHeadache AllergiesCommon ColdRare
SymptomsCough AllergiesDry ColdHacking
SymptomsCircles under eyes AllergiesTypical ColdNever
SymptomsMuscle pain or body aches AllergiesRare ColdCommon
SymptomsSore throat AllergiesRare ColdCommon
SymptomsTiredness, weakness AllergiesRare or never ColdCommon

If you aren’t sure if it’s a cold or allergies, or if your symptoms are severe or long-lasting, it’s best to connect with a medical professional.

At, we tend to see allergy visits spike in the fall. Our nurse practitioners will first diagnose you to confirm it’s indeed allergies.

Then, we’ll provide treatment plans that manage all your symptoms so you can get back to work (or play!). If you have allergies, we’ll work with you to find an over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine. We’ll also suggest steps you can take to minimize your exposure to allergens.

Curious about using online care for your symptoms? It’s sort of like visiting your primary care doctor or a Minute Clinic, but on your phone or computer. You don’t need to use video or download anything. And we don’t charge if online care isn’t right for your situation, so it’s a great place to start.

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About Gwen Verchota, PhD, APRN-BC

Gwen Verchota is the Care Delivery Manager at HealthPartners’ online clinic, She's a leader in creating safe, effective online treatment plans. And she loves leading a team of nurse practitioners that’s passionate about providing convenient, personalized care. Outside of work, you’ll find Gwen golfing, downhill skiing and cheering on the Minnesota Wild with her husband and two kids. She can’t wait to get her kayak out on the lake at the cabin they’re building in Walker, Minn.

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