|poster from the|
National Archives and Records Administration
It’s that time of year again. The pollen is swirling in the air. Your nose is running; your eyes are itching; your throat is scratchy. You’ve got allergies. Or do you? Maybe it’s really a summer cold? Do you know the difference? Sometimes it’s not easy to tell exactly what it is you have, and taking the wrong treatment can either do nothing to alleviate your symptoms or may actually make them worse. So before you reach for the decongestant, here are a few tips to help you determine what you have.
Colds are viruses. They usually last 3-5 days, but symptoms can linger for several days after the virus is gone from your body. Signs of a cold can include a hacking, mucous-producing cough along with a stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, slight body ache, and mild chest discomfort. Fever and headaches are fairly uncommon with colds, and tiredness is fairly mild. Cold symptoms general develop over the course of several days.
The best defense against catching a cold is to wash your hands frequently. The best defense against spreading a cold is to sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow. Once you catch a cold, nothing will cure it, not even chicken soup. You just have to let it run its course. However, drinking lots of fluids and taking over-the-counter medicines will relieve some of your symptoms.
Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to something that is generally not a common threat. Some of the more common allergies are pollen, ragweed, dust, mold, and pet dander. These types of allergies come on slowly (as opposed to certain food allergies) and will linger for as long as the allergen is present. For allergies to pollen and ragweed, this is usually 3-4 weeks. These allergies generally produce sneezing, sniffles watery eyes, itching, and sometimes rashes.
The best defense against allergies is to avoid the allergen. Use air-conditioning to filter out the air. Bathing and washing your hair before going to bed will wash away any pollen that has gathered on you during the day. Allergy shots work for many people, or you can take over-the-counter allergy medications as needed, but always consult with your doctor first.