If you have a stuffy or a runny nose in the spring or summer, it may not be a cold, but it could be seasonal allergies. Some people suffer from allergies all year long, even during the winter, while others experience allergies mainly in the spring.
There are symptoms that allergies and the common cold share, but it is important to know the difference so that you can receive the correct treatment.
Allergies vs. Cold
It can be difficult to tell whether someone has allergies or has a cold, especially if they are young because they often cannot accurately communicate how they feel. Most people develop allergies between the ages of four and six, but some people do not get them until they are older.
People who have parents with allergies are more likely to develop them as well. If one parent has allergies, then their child will have a one in three chance of having them. If both parents have them, then a child has a seven in 10 chance of having allergies as well.
There are signs to look for to determine if you, or someone else, have allergies or a cold.
Time of Year
If you’re sneezing, coughing, and your eyes feel itchy during the winter, you most likely have a cold. It usually takes several days to develop a cold after exposure to the virus. However, allergy sufferers will immediately begin to display symptoms after exposure to pollen.
Also, if the symptoms show up at the same time every year, then that is another indication you, or your child, has allergies.
Most colds only last about three to 14 days depending on the severity. Allergies can last for several weeks since they will last as long as the sufferer is exposed to the pollen to which they are allergic.
Color of Nasal Discharge
It’s important to check nasal discharge to help determine if it is a cold or allergies. With allergies, the mucus will usually be clear after you blow your nose. However, some people can develop sinusitis, which is a short-term sinus infection, when they have allergies, and it can cause the mucus to be yellow.
With a cold, the discharge may look yellow or green. If your nasal discharge is any color other than clear, you should see a doctor, especially if it is accompanied by coughing and a fever.
Fever and Muscle Aches
Unless someone develops sinusitis, most allergy sufferers do not get fevers, chills, or body aches with allergies. These symptoms generally accompany a cold or flu.
Itchy Eyes or Nose
If your eyes, nose, and/or throat feels itchy, then most likely you have allergies. The pollen that causes your nose to run can also make your eyes itch and water, as well as your nose and throat. Some people even have itchy ears.
However, if you have pink eye or viral conjunctivitis, then you have a cold. Pink eye is very contagious, but easily cured, so you need to see your doctor right away if you develop this symptom.
What Causes Allergies?
There are many triggers for allergies, and with seasonal allergies, they can be different depending on the time of year. Most people suffer allergies in the spring when everything starts to bloom, and pollen is released by flowers and plants.
Allergies are often referred to as hayfever, but doctors usually refer to them as allergy rhinitis. These terms refer to being allergic to weeds and other plants that pollinate. Along with weeds, plants like trees, grasses, and flowers can trigger allergies in the spring.
Pollen is released into the air to pollinate other trees, grasses, flowers, or weeds. Since pollen, which is tiny granules, can travel for miles through the air, you may be allergic to plants that are several miles from you.
When someone inhales pollen from a plant they are allergic to, their immune system sees the pollen as an invader and releases antibodies to neutralize it. This reaction causes a release of chemicals, known as histamine, into the bloodstream. It is histamine that causes symptoms like:
- Runny noses
- Itchy eyes
- Itchy noses
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy Throat
- Dark Circles Under Eyes
- Postnasal drip
- Sore throats
- Sinus Pressure
Along with plants, people can develop allergies to indoor pollutants like dust mites, animal dander, or mold.
Allergies by Season
Each season has triggers for people who have allergies. While most people have allergies caused by the release of pollen in the spring, they can also have similar allergies in the other three seasons. For instance, spring allergies are mainly triggered by tree pollen, but summer allergies are usually caused by grass and weed pollens.
The most common allergens for summer sufferers are:
- Russian Thistle
What you’re triggered by depends on where you live, although the grass and weeds causing your symptoms may be miles from your home.
The hot weather of summer can also trigger allergies because air pollution is worse when it’s hot than it is on cooler days. If you have asthma due to allergies, then be careful when it is hot outside because the ozone and smog can trigger it.
Also, if it is windy and dry, pollen can be blown through the air triggering allergies. Either stay indoors on dry, windy days, or be sure to shut the windows and doors, and use an air conditioner to cool off.
As the nights begin to cool down, most people’s allergies will clear up as the grasses and weeds turn dormant. However, ragweed is still a major allergy trigger since it can stick around into October.
Also, about 75% of the people who have spring allergies will also be allergic to ragweed. If you are allergic to ragweed, then you may also have reactions to produce like zucchini, bananas, and melon.
Other triggers in the fall are outdoor mold and dust mites. Mold grows in dark, damp places outside just as it does inside your home. So, a pile of leaves, a stack of firewood, or a shaded, damp grassy area can easily grow mold.
Dust mites can spread throughout your home when the heat is turned on due to falling temperatures. If your heating system smells musty, then you there could be dust mites or mold spores that can cause coughing and sneezing.
Most allergy sufferers look forward to winter because the freezing temperatures will usually kill off most allergens. However, most winter allergens are from the indoors and not outside.
Dust mites, animal dander, mold, and chemicals can trigger allergies in many children and adults. For instance, when the heater comes on, it can spread mold spores, tiny pieces of insects, and dust mites into the air.
There are many over-the-counter medications that help block the release of histamines, known as antihistamines, to reduce allergy symptoms. Your primary care doctor can also prescribe a nasal spray that contains corticosteroids. While these sprays reduce inflammation in the nose, the corticosteroids are minimally absorbed by the body.
For itchy, watery eyes, your doctor can prescribe eye drops to help reduce that symptom as well. If you don’t like the idea of taking medications to reduce your symptoms, or if they don’t work well for you, try using a Neti pot.
The pot, which looks like a mini teapot, holds saline water with which you can irrigate your nasal passages to get rid of pollen, crusted mucus, mold spores, and other debris. A Neti pot not only helps reduce allergic reactions but irrigating your nose can also help if you have a sinus infection or cold.
Aside from these treatments, there are several things you can do to lessen symptoms.
Minimize Exposure to Allergens
You can try to minimize your exposure to allergens by taking some precautions.
Listen to Forecast
Most weather reports will also include the allergy forecast for the day, especially in the spring and fall when allergies are at their worst. Knowing the forecast can help you prepare to go outside so you can reduce exposure to your allergy triggers.
Change Air Filters
Frequently change the filters for your home’s furnace and air conditioner to avoid spreading dust, dirt, pollen, and other allergens throughout your home. Change to HEPA, or high-efficiency particulate filters, to help trap pollen.
Just as sunglasses can protect your eyes from exposure to the sun’s UV rays, they can also lessen exposure to pollen spores. If you wear glasses, then they can help protect your eyes too.
Wash Your Hair
Pollen will stick to your hair, the dog’s fur, and get blown in by the wind when you open the door. To lessen the spores’ effect, wash your hair at the end of the day to avoid transferring pollen to your pillow. Also, brush or rinse off the dog on days when the pollen count is high.
It’s almost impossible to avoid all allergens, but by reducing your exposure to the triggers of your seasonal allergies, you can breathe easier and feel better all year long.