This time of year, the cause of your relentless runny nose and scratchy throat may be up for debate. Have you caught a cold or is it allergies? Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell. But if the budding trees and blooming flowers are any indication, you may be experiencing some of the telltale signs of seasonal allergies.
Know the Culprit
Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system that sends your body into defense mode when harmless substances, such as dust or pollen, are mistaken for germs. Your body releases chemicals known as histamines to attack the allergens, just as it does when fighting a cold. This can cause swelling in your nasal passages, a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes.
Colds, on the other hand, are caused by hundreds of different viruses. When one of these viruses gets into your body ― thanks to contact with an infected person ― your immune system fights back. Some of the effects of the immune response are (you guessed it) nasal congestion, a runny nose, coughing and sneezing.
Cold or Allergy. What’s the Difference?
Despite both being nuisances, colds and allergies do have some differences. The most important difference is that colds usually don’t last longer than 14 days, and they may bring with them the added bonus of body aches, a fever and a sore throat. If you still have symptoms after two weeks, you should see your physician. These may be allergy symptoms or a sign of another problem.
“Because the causes of cold and allergy symptoms are quite different, preventing them requires different strategies,” according to Christina Holtz, D.O., of Main Street Family Physicians in Frisco, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “We must know what a person is allergic to in order to practice allergen avoidance, and scratch allergy testing is widely available to help us determine this. When I see a patient for allergy symptoms, I can then advise that they avoid the substances that cause a reaction. So if you’re someone who’s allergic to pollen, it’s best to avoid going outside on days when the pollen count is high. That can be tough in Texas, I know, and especially this time of year ― but you will thank yourself in the long run.”
“To prevent cold symptoms, you have to prevent the cold-causing virus from getting into your system. To do so, try to keep your immunity up by avoiding stress, maintaining good hydration, getting enough sleep, keeping your distance from people who have colds and washing your hands often. To protect others, always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when sneezing or coughing,” Dr. Holtz added.
Are you a seasonal allergy sufferer? Now’s the time to arm yourself with an antihistamine, decongestant, saline nasal rinse or prescription nasal spray. It’s best to talk to your physician about the right treatment for you.