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Friday, June 16, 2017

How to Tell Whether You Have Allergies or a Cold?

You wake up and your throat is sore, your head feels like a million pounds, and your nose is dripping away. Immediately you think the worst - strep, sinus infection, a cold, eek! Before you let your imagination run wild and potentially run up an expensive urgent care or doctor’s bill, run down a quick checklist to gauge if what you have may actually be allergies.
 
Have you been in close contact with anyone who has a cold?

Unlike allergies, cold viruses are contagious. Allergies occur when your body believes external bodies like pollen, dust, or grass are actually harmful germs. It triggers an immune reaction to fight them off, and this production of histamine and other chemicals by the body causes your nose to stuff up and drip, and for you to cough or feel itchy.

A cold on the other hand is in fact the presence of a virus in your system which causes your body to rightfully man a defense to ward off further infection. This immune reaction may also involve a stuffy nose, cough, etc. Cold viruses can live on the hands of people with a cold who have sneezed or coughed into their hands, for example, and they can spread the virus by touching doorknobs and other common surfaces.

Do you have a fever?
A fever is typically the body’s response to fighting off foreign bodies like viruses or bacteria. Specifically, the hypothalamus portion of the brain which regulates temperature will raise the setpoint of your body’s temperature to help your immune system fight off invading viruses or bacteria. An increase in body temperature fosters a more hostile environment to prevent bacteria and viruses from replicating and getting worse.

Allergies will never cue a body temperature change like a fever, while occasionally a cold virus will. If you are not sure if you have a fever, get a thermometer from your local pharmacy. Gone are the days of under the tongue thermometers which can carry germs if not used with protective covers. If you are looking for the best forehead thermometer, find one with features like easy to read digital display and digital memory for recording recent readings.

Are you itchy?
Itchy, irritated eyes, throat, ears, and nose are often a body’s histamine response to allergens, and not a cold. As mentioned, histamine is a protein produced by the body as an immune response to infection or abrasion. It travels up the spinal cord to the brain which then activates specific nerve fibers to induce an itching response.

When you scratch an itch you slow key brain activity and the result is a pleasurable feeling. Colds will rarely cause itchy symptoms while itchy skin, throat, and ears as well as itchy and watery eyes is a common effect of allergies. Unlike allergies, however, colds may cause feelings of achiness and soreness in your joints and muscles because your body is diverting white blood cells from those areas to fight off the virus.

Are symptoms sticking around?

While cold symptoms typically take a few days to develop, contact with an allergen can trigger an allergic response, like sneezing, almost right away. Are your symptoms starting and sticking around? Seasonal allergies flare up with changes in weather between seasons, most commonly in spring and summer, and can last for months. A cold virus is typically wiped out by the body’s immune system within a couple weeks.

Allergies may even cause frightening looking white spots in the throat or eczema bumps, however, without further evaluation this can be hard to decipher from a potential infection. If you’re able to gauge the severity of your symptoms and potential cause, great! If you need a little more help and simply feel awful, it’s always worth seeing the doctor. Even if your symptoms are simply related to “allergies,” your healthcare provider may be able to provide antihistamine and steroid medications to aid with your body’s overreaction to seasonal allergens.

This is a guest blog entry.

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