It’s that time of year again. Allergy season is in full force, with sneezing, puffy eyes and all, but you may also be experiencing symptoms that feel like a spring cold.
So, how can you tell the difference?
Dr. Elaine Chin, the founder of the Executive Health Centre in Toronto, explains the key differences between a cold and allergies. A cold is caused by a virus, whereas an allergy happens when our immune systems produce antibodies in response to a substance in the environment, which can release histamines and can last for much longer.
Chin said that virus-related illnesses usually last between seven and 10 days, but because spring allergies are caused when we breathe in pollen particles in the air, people can experience allergies for up to six weeks.
WHAT ARE THE KEY SYMPTOMS?
Both colds and allergies can cause sneezing and runny noses, but there are some key differences between the two.
Colds can cause aches and fevers, but Chin says that generally doesn’t happen with allergies. Allergies often cause puffy and itchy skin and eyes and some people even break out with hives.
Colds usually cause a wet cough, also known as a productive cough, where you may cough up phlegm. Allergies are associated with a dry cough, where you can feel a bit wheezy, caused by blockages or inflammation in our airways that makes breathing sound “like whistling or squeaking,” according to Medical News Today.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
“The best way is to avoid it,” Chin says. If you have allergies, it’s important to avoid opening the doors and windows, as this will allow pollen particles to come into your home.
“But then we can’t stay indoors for the next couple of weeks,” Chin says, “so we take medications that are over the counter and medications that are prescribed.”
According to the Canadian Family Physician’s (CFP) website, the official journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, most adults in Canada get four to six colds a year. Although ginseng and echinacea may have a small preventative effect, CFP says the most successful way to prevent colds is to wash your hands frequently.
There are several medications you can take to ease allergy symptoms. Decongestants, puffers and antihistamines can ease your allergy symptoms and allow you to carry on with day-to-day activities while spring is in bloom.
For severe allergies, Chin recommends using mast cell stabilizers, which prevent histamines from releasing and causing allergy symptoms in different parts of your body.
“It has been a game changer for me,” Chin said.
Infographic by Mahima Singh.