“Doc, I’m miserable. Do I have a cold or allergies?”
I hear this question a lot. The last thing anyone wants is a runny nose and constant sneezing to make the winter more drawn out and miserable. While many blame their symptoms on a cold, it could be something much more.
Contrary to popular belief, allergies don't only strike in the spring and fall months. Indoor allergies can also flare in the winter during the typical cold and flu season.
The most common allergy triggers in the winter months include our indoor pets, dust mites and indoor molds. In fact, molds can potentially be more problematic than outdoor pollen.
Since allergies can occur at any stage of life, adults that have never before had allergies can develop allergy symptoms for the first time during the winter months. This sudden case of adult-onset allergies can be easy to mistake for a cold.
Cold and allergy symptoms can often mirror one another. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, you can help rule out cold or allergies by asking yourself the following questions:
- Symptoms for two weeks? If you answered yes, you more likely have allergies. While colds might seem to linger forever, they are not as persistent as allergies.
- Escalating symptoms? If your symptoms evolve you might have a summer cold. Colds evolve, usually starting with a stuffy nose, throat irritation and low grade fever. Next comes the sneezing and a runny nose, with thickening mucus.
- Green or clear? Colored mucus probably isn't the most pleasant symptom you want to think about. Mucus that turns yellow or green if often thought to indicate an infection, but could also be seen with dehydration or allergies. Clear mucus can be with either the common cold or allergies.
- Have an itch or wheezing? Itchy eyes, throat, and nose, along with sneezing, usually mean allergy. If you also have asthma, you might be more likely to have an allergy. An estimated 75 to 80 percent of asthmatics also have an allergy.
Winter colds and allergies might not seem serious, but they can make the winter doldrums even harder to bear. If untreated they can sometimes lead to other health complications.
If symptoms are persistent, you should see a board-certified allergist for proper testing, diagnosis and treatment. While there is no cure for allergies, an allergist may provide education, avoidance and appropriate medications. Allergists can also prescribe immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots. This form of treatment can put you on the fast track to relief and is known to modify and prevent diseases’ progression.
Feeling your best can make the final push through winter easier… at least, until the spring trees and outdoor mold allergies help us welcome the warm weather.
Modified from an article from ACAAI http://acaai.org/news/sudden-allergies-when-summer-cold-much-more