by Ed Lonsinger
on Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 at 3:09pm.
Did anyone else get sick the second we turned our clocks back one hour? It’s as if my body knew I was already complaining about that and decided to throw in a host of other ailments. Tis the season I guess. But then it got me thinking, is this just my body not adjusting to the time difference, or is it something more? Am I experiencing seasonal allergies or a cold? What’s the difference? I did some research and found that, like mucus, the differences aren’t always clear.
Colds and allergies are similar in that they both affect your respiratory system, making it harder to breathe and easier to feel miserable. But while colds are caused by a virus that will provide days of coughing/sneezing/wheezing/sore throating and generally work itself out within 2 weeks, allergies are a bit more complicated.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 6 Americans struggles with seasonal allergies. It is a complex interplay between genetics, your immune system, and the environment you live in. With people that have seasonal allergies, their bodies detect a threat in something that the rest of us see as harmless. What happens? Their bodies mount an attack and produce proteins and antibodies that bind to cells. These cells release chemical messengers called histamine. Histamine causes a sneeze reflex to try and expel the allergen, it dilates blood vessels which causes congestion, and it stimulates glands that form mucus. Histamine creates misery, but all in an attempt to get rid of what it thinks is an intruder. This is also why we take antihistamines to try and make us feel normal and to prevent our bodies from reacting to these nonthreatening intruders. Consult with an allergist to define your specific set of reactions and treatment plan.
How can you tell if you’re reacting to an allergy or a cold? Check the markers:
Are your symptoms lasting a few days (cold) or weeks to months (allergy)?
Time Track: are you feeling awful around the same time every year? (allergy)
Are you feeling ok in the house then suddenly start coughing/sneezing outside? (allergy)
You have a fever (cold)
You are sneezing, have itchy eyes/nose/throat, dark circles under eyes (allergy)
Mucus secretions are darker green and jelly-like (cold) or clear and watery (allergy)
Regardless of whether you’re suffering from allergies or a cold, here are some best practices to help prevent illness:
Wash your hands often
Stay indoors between peak hours of 5-10am
Clean your bedsheets
Replace your air filters
Wipe down your pets
Close windows and use the A/C
Leave your shoes outside
Wear sunglasses and hats
Avoid yard work, especially raking leaves if you are sensitive to mold
This is also a great time to remind everyone to get their flu shot. US flu activity is currently low, but flu season is approaching and you do not want to wait until you are already sick to seek treatment. The NIH has a Flu Vaccine Finder to help you locate your nearest provider. In most cases, flu shots are free with insurance!
Treat your body well, it deserves it! If you happen to get sick and are stuck indoors, remember to drink lots of fluids and to pamper yourself. Netflix and Chill works. Or our new favorite, Apple TV+ and Fill….a glass of wine.