You’ve been looking forward to an allergy-free Autumn, so why are you suddenly sneezing and sniffling? Are you coming down with a cold?

Maybe – but maybe not. Fall is still a common time for seasonal allergies, taking some of the fun out of its fantastic foliage and comfortable climate. Because it’s also the start of cold and flu season, common conditions that share many of the same symptoms as seasonal allergies, it can be hard to know the cause behind your fall congestion.

Learning how to tell the difference between the common cold and fall allergies can help you manage your symptoms and find the right relief.

Fall Allergy Symptoms

Fall allergy symptoms share many commonalities with the common cold, making them somewhat difficult to diagnose. Symptoms that are common with both conditions include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Dry cough

Despite their similarities, there are a few key differences between allergies and a cold that can help you determine the cause of your symptoms. First, allergies will never cause a fever, chills, or generalized body aches. A wet, productive cough or an intensely sore throat are also signs you may be coming down with a cold.

You’re probably suffering from allergies if you:

Have thin, clear mucus. Colds tend to cause mucus that is thick and discolored, while allergy snot will stay thin and transparent.

Have itchy eyes, ears, nose, or throat. Itchy, irritated sinus cavities are a hallmark of seasonal allergies. Colds rarely cause these symptoms.

Stay sick for more than a week. Allergy symptoms can stick around for several weeks, while colds usually clear up in 7 to 10 days.

Fall Allergy Triggers

Colds are caused by infectious viruses. Seasonal allergies are caused by allergens, triggering substances that are found outdoors as well as inside your home. During the fall, allergy symptoms are usually caused by one of four common allergens.

  • Ragweed is the most common cause of seasonal fall allergies. Ragweed season begins in late summer and runs through mid-fall. Its pollen can travel hundreds of miles through the air, so it may be causing your allergies even if Ragweed isn’t common in your area. About 75% of people who are sensitive to spring plants also have a ragweed allergy.
  • Weed Pollen from other plants may also be to blame for your autumn allergies. Depending on where you live, plants with allergy-inducing pollen may include Burning Bush, Cocklebur, Pigweed, Sagebrush, Tumbleweed, or Goldenrods.
  • Mold is another common culprit of fall allergy symptoms. Mold and mildew grow in damp, humid spaces and produce spores that can travel through the air. During the fall, these fungi are commonly found in piles of damp autumn leaves and compost piles, as well as in certain spaces inside your home.
  • Dust Mites are microscopic arthropods that live in almost every home and feed on dead skin cells. As temperatures cool, they’re often stirred around your home the first few times you turn your heater on. Maintaining low humidity levels in your home and cleaning frequently may help keep dust mites at bay.

Fall Allergy Treatment

Like all seasonal allergies, over-the-counter medicines like antihistamines or nasal decongestants can help you manage your fall allergy symptoms. If your symptoms are intense, immunotherapy treatment with allergy shots or sublingual allergy drops can provide lasting relief by teaching your immune system to tolerate your triggers.

As a virus, the common cold has to run its course. Helpful treatments to speed recovery may include plenty of rest, nasal decongestants, and pain relievers.

In both cases, flushing your sinuses with a saline rinse may also provide temporary relief.