If you’ve lived in the Sacramento area for any length of time, there’s a good chance you know all about allergies.
At times, however, it can be hard to know if your symptoms are allergies or the start of a cold.
The common cold can be caused by as many as 200 viruses, and when these viruses get into the body, your immune system attacks them. While colds occur more often in the winter, it’s possible to contract one any time of year. They usually last from three to 14 days – as your immune system fights off the virus and you quit having symptoms. Coughing, a sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose occur often in colds, and sometimes aches and fatigue. Rarely occurring symptoms include a fever and itchy, watery eyes. “Cold and allergy symptoms do overlap quite a bit,” says Mayo Clinic internist James M. Steckelberg, M.D. “The most important difference is the duration of the symptoms, with a cold disappearing in 14 days.”
Treatment of a cold may include rest, pain relievers and over-the-counter remedies such as decongestants. To prevent cold symptoms, you need to stop the virus from getting into your system. Cold germs are contagious – you can pick them up when an infected person sneezes, coughs or shakes hands with you – so keep a distance from those who have colds and wash your hands often.
Rhinitis, an inflammatory condition of the nasal cavity, affects more than 50 million people. Symptoms include sneezing, itching, clear watery discharge or blockage, and post-nasal drainage. Associated symptoms consist of coughing due to post-nasal drip, sore throat, loss of smell and taste, fatigue, nasal polyps, asthma and sinusitis.
Allergic rhinitis is caused by substances we breathe called allergens, which only cause problems in some people. “The immune system mistakenly identifies these substances as intruders and generates a reaction against them,” says Dr. Robert Hsu, an allergist with Mercy Medical Group. “It is due to a strong immune response. During this reaction, the immune system cells release substances such as histamine and leukotrienes that cause the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.” According to Dr. Hsu, it often takes two to three years for the immune system to ramp up to the allergens in an area. Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, the Sacramento region is blessed with an abundance of trees, grasses, weeds, cats, dogs, dust and mold.
Treatment of allergies starts with determining which allergens trigger your reactions. Then your physician or nurse will work with you to help you avoid those triggers. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to decrease symptoms; common prescriptions include nasal corticosteroid sprays, antihistamine pills and nasal sprays, leukotriene receptor antagonists, and decongestant pills or sprays. Finally, you may be treated with allergen immunotherapy, or “allergy shots,” if symptoms persist. Work with your physician to make sure you are taking the appropriate medication.
If you’re going “achoo” frequently, you have lots of company here in this area, so cover your nose…and bless you!