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Winter Worries: Allergies or Cold?

Want to take a quick quiz? You are a doctor seeing a patient who complains of coughing, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes. Do you diagnose cold, flu, or allergies?

One billion people suffer from colds each year, and more than 50 million Americans suffer from environmental allergies, so if you determined you didn’t have enough information to answer that question – you’re right!

Cold, flu, and allergy symptoms often overlap. In the winter, when cold and flu season spreads like wildfire and instances of indoor allergies drastically increase from spending so much time inside, it’s difficult to tell the difference between them. In this post, we’ll go into more detail on how to know what’s really going on and ways to reduce your reaction to indoor allergies this winter.

For most people, cooler weather not only brings relief from scorching summer heat and also brings relief from pollen and plant allergies. But spending more time indoors makes it almost impossible to avoid dust mites, mold, or pet dander – the most common indoor allergy triggers. Worse, symptoms of allergies often look like cold symptoms. How do you tell the difference?

Sneezing due to allergies or the cold?

The difference comes with the severity and longevity of symptoms. If you have a cold, you will probably feel better in about ten days. Allergies can last several weeks or even months depending on their severity. Because of the different causes of each ailment, colds and the flu are caused by viruses, while allergies and asthma are caused by the body’s immune system reacting to the environment, there is a big difference in the treatment for each condition.

No matter what’s happening, if you’re feeling sick, take it easy for a few days. Drink more water, eat healthily, get more rest and pay attention to how your body feels. While allergy symptoms will largely be concentrated above the neck (i.e.- your upper respiratory tract, head, and face) cold and flu symptoms typically engulf the body, causing aches, chills, fatigue and fever.

If you suspect you have the flu, contact your doctor for treatment. For allergies, antihistamines work to reduce the swelling and itching in your nasal passages and stop the sneezing! A decongestant can also help you clear your nasal passages. If you don’t find relief from over-the-counter medication, consider an allergy-shot treatment. A series of shots provided by your allergist or immunologist causes more permanent relief over time from your worst allergy symptoms. One of our BreatheAmerica providers can help you find the best course of action for managing and resolving your worst allergy or asthma symptoms.

After treating your allergy symptoms, make sure you aren’t increasing your exposure by bringing more allergens into your home. You can even think of this as a pre-spring cleaning!

Take off your shoes at the door to avoid tracking in dust, slush, and dirt. Make sure your HVAC unit and filters are clean. HEPA filters are the best choice for trapping and preventing small airborne allergens, like dust particles.  According to BNG, having a dirty HVAC unit (especially a furnace that hasn’t really been used in a year!) can spread the allergens you want to avoid to every room in your house.

Throw out anything with mold, like bath towels, shower curtains, or carpets. Make sure to wash your linens regularly in hot water. Did you know you can even wash your plastic shower curtain and liner to keep it mold-free, just don’t put it in the dryer!

If you have a furry pet, have it sleep outside your (or the allergy sufferer’s) bedroom, and bathe it once a week. Fido will be happy and clean, and you’ll feel some relief from your pet allergy symptoms.

While it’s almost impossible to avoid all allergy triggers, especially while spending more time indoors each winter, you don’t have to suffer! Don’t wait to find relief; make your appointment with one of our board-certified allergists and immunologists today!