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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 22, 2018

Colds and allergies battle each other in the spring

Distinguishing which symptoms belong to each is half the battle
Apr 05, 2018

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


Winter may have passed but cold season has not. Allergy season is also on the brink but the two are often mistaken for each other. However, they are vastly different, beginning with the way they are transmitted.

Cold symptoms are a viral infection caused by direct contact with the virus while allergies are an adverse reaction to a foreign substance. Lisa Kongable, associate professor of nursing at Iowa Wesleyan University, says the typical cold virus lasts between seven and 10 days and that the symptoms start out mild but can gain momentum as the virus grows.

“Gradual onset starts with a sneeze and cough and moves to a stuffy nose and pressure,” she explains.

The most common way the virus spreads is through person to person contact. She recommends washing hands, rest and fluids to help prevent the virus from spreading. Getting the right amount and kind of vitamins also play a key role. She advocates for people to take vitamins C and B. “Those are your stress vitamins and they’re water soluble,” she explains.

Stress vitamins are the first vitamins the body uses when trying to fight off infection. By building them back up, the body is able to keep fighting the infection and can potentially eliminate the threat faster.

Caffeinated beverages like soda and coffee are potentially harmful when trying to fight a cold because the caffeine can dehydrate the body. Instead she recommends fruit juices, water and herbal tea. “Some of those can have different herbs in them that can help boost the immune system as well,” she says. “Anything that’s soothing to you, I think, is important, but definitely something that is boosted up with vitamin C.”

While a cold derives from a virus that is contracted, allergies are something you are born with. The symptoms may mimic that of a cold, but the body is not fighting off any illness. “It’s more of a reaction to allergens,” she explains.

Allergens can include pollen, animals, smoke and even molds. They are generally airborne and the severeness of the allergy season depends on the weather. She predicts this allergy season will be more severe because of the mild winter.

A mild winter could mean a stronger allergy season because the pollen did not die in the cold. Warm weather and strong winds are also a contributing factor because the warm weather allows for the pollen to grow and the wind for it to be distributed.

“Because of that, the trees are going to have an easier way of pollinating,” she explains.

The symptoms of allergies are often mistaken for those of a cold because they can be almost identical. The two easiest ways to distinguish between them are itchiness and muscle aches. Itching is attributed to allergies because pollen is disturbing the area. Muscle aches are attributed to colds because the body is tired from trying to fight off the infection.

“If you’re going to have an allergic reaction, you’re going to know it versus the cold is kind of a gradual build up of symptoms,” she says.

Because allergies are influenced by the outdoors, their symptoms tend to begin right away. The body does not have a natural way of fighting off allergies so their warning signs are more apparent. The symptoms of a cold can begin with a stuffy nose and progress in severity over time because the viral infection is growing.

Allergy treatments vary depending on the severity and need of each individual. Nasal sprays are a common form of medication and according to Kongable, tend to work a bit faster than traditional oral treatments because the medication is applied directly to the affected area.

However, there is no way to get rid of the symptoms permanently. “(You’re) not really able to get rid of them because it’s something you are born with,” she explains. “(By using medication) you can make it a little bit more mild as far as what your response and reaction is.”

Because colds and allergies are two different infections, they are not able to be treated with one medication. One is a viral infection and the other an averse response. For this reason, two different medications are required and antibiotics are not one of them. “Antibiotics do not cure colds, they treat bacteria infections,” she explains.

Vaccinations do exist for allergy symptoms,but do require multiple applications. An allergy vaccine can be received before the onset of symptoms, but cannot fight off the allergies. Instead it is used to help soothe symptoms and make them more tolerable.

“Your allergy shots are trying to build up your system so that you’re having a less intense allergic response to your allergy,” she adds.

Surrounding cold and allergy season are the many myths about contracting illness.

Myth: Not wearing a coat can make you sick.

True: Because the body is using so much energy to keep the system warm, the immune system can be compromised because its working overtime. “If your immune response is being more challenged you might be more prone to some of these microorganisms that you’re exposed to,” she says.

Myth: Walking outside with wet hair can make you sick.

True: “I would support not doing that,” she jokes. The coldness of the hair prevents the body from keeping its normal temperature because it’s trying to regulate the part that is not warm. There is potential for the body to overwork itself and compromise the immune system.

Spring colds are known as the second phase of colds because people have been inside for the winter and have not exposed their bodies to the microorganisms that carry the virus. Because the symptoms closely mimic those of allergies, many go undiagnosed. If symptoms continue to progress with no relief, contact a doctor or allergist for help and more information.

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