Spring has sprung and that can spell misery for the more than 50 million Americans with allergies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness with an annual cost of over $18 billion.
Dr. Robert Weiss, a board certified otolaryngologist, says allergies are also a leading cause of chronic sinusitis, a chronic condition that may result in multiple sick days and lost productivity.
“And that’s not mentioning the profound affect sinusitis has on the 30 million sufferers’ daily lives and relationships,” says Weiss, head and neck surgeon and director of CT ENT Sinus and Allergy center in Norwalk, Connecticut. “Spring and fall are the worst time for allergies and sinusitis.”
Statistics show that despite the prevalence, over half the people suffering from allergies do not seek help from a specialist for their condition. One reason: Confusion over whether they are suffering from hay fever or a common cold virus.
“Many think they’ve caught a cold and can’t tell the difference,” he tells Newsmax Health.
Here are eight ways to tell the difference between a cold and spring allergies — and what to do about them.
- Fever. Allergy attacks NEVER include fever as part of their presentation. Colds often involve low-grade fevers, below 101 degrees, and can run higher if the virus is aggressive.
- Cough. Common colds often involve some form of cough while patients may never cough during an allergy attack. Some allergy patients, however, especially asthmatics, can experience wheezing or cough as part of their presentation.
- Sneezing. Frequent and multiple sneezes are a hallmark of the allergy attack, especially in a patient who doesn’t feel “sick.”
- Runny, stuffy nose. Nasal congestion is a common symptom for both allergy and cold sufferers. It results from increased blood flow to the internal mucous membranes of the nose and sinus cavity as the immune system responds to the condition at hand. Generally, allergic mucous is clear and watery, while an infection causes thick, colored mucous. Contrary to popular belief, the color of nasal mucous does not distinguish whether the infection is viral or bacterial.
- Headache. Often congestion can cause a feeling of pain or pressure within the sinuses, sometimes called “sinus headaches.” This can occur in both allergies and colds. But if the headache is one-sided, that could indicate a more serious bacterial infection.
- Itchy eyes, ears and throat. Itching in these areas almost always suggests an allergic cause of the symptoms.
- Sore throat. Both colds and allergies can result in sore throats. But allergy patients often describe the pain as more “scratchy” while colds produce a more severe, “sharp” sore throat.
- Swollen glands. Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck and under the chin frequently accompanies the common cold and resolves on its own. Allergies seldom produce swollen glands.
If you have determined that your symptoms are due to allergies, the first step, says Weiss, is to try over-the-counter products such as antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays.
“To stay alert with allergies, talk to your healthcare provider about trying a non-sedating antihistamine like Allegra or Claritin,” he adds. “If these do not provide total relief, ask your doctor about a nasal steroid spray such as Rhinocort, Flonase, or Nasacort. There are also non-sedation oral medications that help control allergies, such as Singulair.”
The best option to treat allergies is called Immunotherapy or IT. It decreases the body’s reaction to allergens and is the only treatment that cures allergies, says Weiss.
“Immunotherapy has been proven to reduce nasal congestion, runny nose and itchy eyes,” he says. “It can also decrease the onset and increase the control of asthma in children and helps control adults asthma. “
Traditional IT usually involves weekly shots of allergy extract performed in a medical office.
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