Which One Is It: A Cold, the Flu, or Allergies?

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This year, colds and flus are hitting people harder than ever. Now that pandemic restrictions have loosened up (or disappeared altogether) and people have returned to their pre-pandemic lifestyles — e.g., gathering with friends and family, attending concerts, working in the office again — the world’s most common viruses are taking advantage. 

This is happening because our natural defenses are struggling to catch up. After months of social distancing and masking, our adaptive immune system — the branch of immunity that gets “trained” by exposure to germs — has not had a chance to prepare. And seasonal allergies, which are now upon us, only add to the immune overload we are already facing.  

This is why experts are predicting an especially tough time for colds and flus. And it’s already begun, with what’s turning out to be the worst cold season in recent history.1  

Seasonal Allergies 

Seasonal allergies add to the immune overload we are currently facing. As temperatures rise year after year, allergy seasons are getting stronger and longer, with more pollen and extended exposure times. As a result, forecasters predict this year will yet again be an intense year for seasonal allergies — and the allergy “season” is starting earlier and earlier, with many people experiencing symptoms year-round.  

The Most Common Allergy Symptoms: 

Allergies and colds share many of the same symptoms, such as nasal congestion and sneezing, but allergies are often characterized by itchy, watery eyes, clear mucus, uncontrolled sneezing, throat tickling, and sinus and head pressure. In addition, allergy symptoms tend to stay the same, while cold symptoms often worsen before improving.2 

The Difference Between the Common Cold and the Flu   

Patients often ask me how to tell when they have a cold and when they have the flu — and this is an important question. Colds are the most common infectious disease in the U.S., and they’re usually caused by one of two types of viruses: Rhinoviruses, which mainly infect the upper respiratory tract and predominate in the fall and winter,  and enteroviruses (non-polio). The latter tends to be more common during the summer, and is also more likely to cause GI symptoms and gut health issues, as well as sudden fever (often causing it to be confused with the flu). 

The most common symptoms of colds, regardless of the season, are nasal stuffiness, sore throat, sneezing, and a runny nose. Depending on which virus is the offender, you might also feel a headache, cough, postnasal drip, burning eyes, muscle aches, or a decreased appetite. Most people catch a cold without knowing it — the symptoms only begin in 1 to 5 days. Usually the first sign is irritation in the nose or a scratchy feeling in the throat, followed within hours by sneezing and a nasal discharge. Within 1 to 3 days, the nasal secretions usually become thicker and perhaps yellow or green — this is a normal part of the common cold, and not a reason for taking antibiotics.  

Colds usually resolve in about 7 days, with perhaps a lingering cough for another week. If a cold lasts longer, it could be a different problem, such as a sinus infection or allergies.  

The flu, on the other hand, can be much more serious with severe symptoms like extreme fatigue, muscle pain, chills, dry cough, very sore throat, headaches, and high fever. The flu is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by a variety of influenza viruses. The flu can be deadly in people with compromised immune systems. Seniors, toddlers, infants, and people with chronic health conditions are at much higher risk for serious flu complications.

As with a cold, you’ll usually feel symptoms 1 to 4 days after you are infected. You can spread the flu to others before your symptoms start and for another 3 to 4 days after your symptoms appear. Flu symptoms come on very quickly. Typically, the fever begins to decline on the second or third day of the illness. Most people who get the flu recover within a week (although they may have a lingering cough and tire easily for a few weeks afterward).

Colds, Flus and Allergies Impact Your Immune Health 

Allergies and viral infections fall on opposite ends of the immune health spectrum. Allergies, similar to autoimmune conditions, are caused by an overactive immune system that reacts too strongly to environmental triggers like pollen, mold, and other common allergens. This out-of-control inflammatory immune response causes symptoms that resemble an infection.3 

Colds, flus, and other viral infections, however, are on the other end of the immune spectrum, causing illness when the body’s immune responses aren’t strong enough to recognize the invaders and quickly neutralize them.

 In cases of aggressive viral infections, the immune system can also be thrown into overdrive — with deadly consequences. In these cases, master alarm protein galectin-3 unleashes an uncontrolled inflammatory cytokine storm that causes vital organs to shut down.4 

Regardless of the challenge you’re facing, healthy immune function requires precision and balance to efficiently control pathogens, without the out-of-control inflammation that can be so deadly.  

How To Support and Balance Your Immune System  

Medicinal mushrooms are ideal immune system “trainers.” Certain species of medicinal mushrooms work with an innate intelligence in the body and help to modulate and educate the immune system so that it reacts appropriately to whatever challenge it encounters. These powerful fungi can rein in an overactive immune system to help combat allergies and autoimmune flare-ups, while at the same time enhancing the ability of immune cells to fight off viruses and other pathogens.

Medicinal mushrooms are also excellent detoxifiers, helping to absorb toxins from tissues and exchange them with unique health-promoting compounds that support optimal function.5 

My leading recommendation for optimal immune balance is a first-in-class botanically-enhanced mushroom formula that contains 6 powerful functional mushroom varieties: reishi, cordyceps, coriolus, and maitake. These nourishing mushrooms provide powerful immune support regardless of the season or symptoms. For this particular formula, the mushrooms are grown on a blend of immune-supportive herbs for an added boost of phytonutrients and compounds — supplying the highest level of immune and total-body support.  

Clinically Proven Modified Citrus Pectin 

Clinically researched Modified Citrus Pectin is an unparalleled super-nutrient shown in over 75 published studies to help treat and prevent our most serious conditions — including cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, and more. There is a patented form of Modified Citrus Pectin that works to balance the immune system and prevent immune overreactions, including the deadly cytokine storm caused by the body’s overreaction to aggressive viruses.  

Whether you’re seeking to increase your immune defenses against viruses and other invaders or are looking for a solution to reduce inflammatory immune flare ups — or both — these integrative strategies can support optimal immune responses and overall health — so you can stay healthy all year long.   


  1. Tara Parker Pope. Why Everyone Has the Worst Summer Cold Ever. New York Times website. July 22, 2021. Accessed July 29, 2021.  

  1. Is it a common cold, or allergies? WebMD website. May 15, 2021. Accessed July 29, 2021.  

  1. Toskala E. Immunology. Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2014 Sep;4 Suppl 2:S21-7.  

  1. Caniglia JL, Guda MR, Asuthkar S, Tsung AJ, Velpula KK. A potential role for Galectin-3 inhibitors in the treatment of C19. PeerJ. 2020;8:e9392.  

  1. Wasser SP. Medicinal Mushrooms in Human Clinical Studies. Part I. Anticancer, Oncoimmunological, and Immunomodulatory Activities: A Review. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2017;19(4):279-317.  

  1. Eliaz I, Raz A. Pleiotropic Effects of Modified Citrus Pectin. Nutrients. 2019 Nov 1;11(11):2619.  

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