What you should know

Spring and summer open up the enjoyment of outdoor activities and scenery. Yet a runny nose, stuffiness, and itchy eyes can ruin the experience. Relief methods depend on whether you have an allergy or a cold.

Colds can happen any time of the year. Cold viruses can attack even in warm weather. Yet colds and flu symptoms are more common in the winter when people tend to congregate indoors.

Allergy triggers (allergens) may be worse in warm, humid months. Airborne allergens like pollen, molds, dust and animal dander can cause watery eyes and noses. Insect bites, stings and plants can also cause allergic reactions.

Allergies are immune responses to substances that may be harmless to others. The body releases a chemical called histamine that can causes problems: swollen noses, sneezing, itchy eyes and sometimes coughing.

Knowing the difference between allergy and cold symptoms is important, especially for someone who has allergies. A cold is contagious while allergies are not. Colds are infections which can be transferred by a sneeze or dirty hands.

The symptoms for colds and allergies can be similar. However, some symptoms tend to be different.

For allergies, mucus tends to be thin and clear. In contrast, mucus is often thicker and yellow during colds.

Eyes often get itchy in many allergic reactions but rarely with colds.

Colds may make a person ache while allergies do not. Fatigue might affect both allergy and cold sufferers.

Allergy symptoms can start quickly after exposure. Symptoms can last for months until the allergen is removed. Cold symptoms might start slowly. Cold symptoms can end in just few days and almost always within 14 days.

Both colds and allergies require self-management. The prevention methods are quite different.

For colds, hygiene is essential. It is very important to wash hands often and clean surfaces where hands and mouths spread germs. Sneezing and coughing into a sleeve can keep hands cleaner and protect others.

For allergies, solutions are removing and avoiding allergy triggers. This can require staying indoors when the air is filled with pollen and dust. Good air conditioning filters and regular vacuuming help. Some patients benefit by taking allergy medications several weeks before the season begins. Regular allergy shots help many allergy sufferers.

Allergy reactions can be so severe (anaphylaxis) that they can lead to breathing problems and even death. Severe allergies require professional care and advice from an allergy specialist.

The Memphis area can be challenging for allergy sufferers. A warm, humid climate boosts pollen and mold counts.

What you should do

Decide if you have a cold or an allergy. Antihistamines and decongestants might help you for either problem.

If you have thick mucus, a fever, cough, or sore throat, you may have a cold. Wash your hands frequently, and avoid contact with others who can catch your cold. Don’t share personal items. Sneeze and cough into your sleeve.

For colds, remember that antibiotics don’t cure cold viruses. Be careful in using over-the-counter medication like Tylenol, and syrups for colds, flu and coughs. Follow labeled directions to avoid an overdose. Get rest and drink fluids.

For allergies, depend on a doctor who specializes in allergies. Find out what triggers your reactions and how to treat your symptoms. Learn as much as you can about what to do for a severe attack.


May 26, 2013