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Allergies vs. Colds

July 1, 2016
The warm spring weather has finally arrived, yet some of us are still coughing and sneezing. But are those coughs and sneezes allergies or signs of a common cold? One way to differentiate between the two is how long the symptoms persist: Colds last only about 3-14 days. If your symptoms last longer and happen around the same time each year, your primary care physician can help you determine if they are allergy related.

When allergens such as dust and pollen enter your body, your immune system attacks them the same way it would attack a cold virus. The body creates chemicals like histamine to fight off the allergens, which causes symptoms to develop. Depending on the allergy, these symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, hives or rashes and itchy, watery eyes.

The good news is that allergens aren't contagious like colds, and there are a number of treatments and over-the-counter drugs that can help reduce the symptoms. Adopting some of the following daily habits may further ease the discomfort caused by allergies:
  • Avoid exercising outdoors at dawn and dusk. These are the times pollen levels are at their highest.
  • Prevent pollen from entering your home by keeping the windows closed and taking your shoes off before coming into the house.
  • Wear a mask or handkerchief when doing yardwork to reduce the amount of allergens that you can potentially breathe in.
  • Wash your hair before bed. This can prevent allergens from making their way to your pillow.
As for preventing colds, hand washing cannot be emphasized enough. Avoid touching your face, especially around your eyes, nose and throat as they are the main entryways for a cold virus to get into your system. Be sure to frequently clean and disinfect commonly-touched household surfaces such as light switches, door knobs and TV remotes.

Talk to your primary care physician if you need help determining whether you have allergies or a cold. If you are diagnosed with seasonal allergies, he or she can also help you decide how to treat them so you can enjoy spring, rather than suffer through it. If you do not already have a primary care physician, visit to find one today!
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