How to Tell a Cold from a Springtime Allergy

How can you tell if a stuffy, dripping nose with sneezes and popping ears is a cold or an allergy? A cold and an allergic reaction can cause almost identical symptoms. But a cold will last for a few days and eventually go away. An allergic reaction will generally last for a long period of time. If the symptoms are related to specific activities, such as if they occur only in a pollen-laden garden, or when a certain food is ingested these are signs of an allergy. Mold, animal dander and other allergens can cause year-round symptoms. Allergic rhinitis is the most common allergy. It is a significant risk factor for asthma. People who have allergic rhinitis are more likely to develop asthma and acute asthma attacks are often precipitated by exposure to allergens.

Keeping a diary of precipitating factors and reviewing it with an Allergist can alert you to which pollens are causing your symptoms. Once it is determined which particular allergen you are allergic to it is most effective if you begin medication prior to the onset of the season for that allergy.
Some strategies for avoiding pollen include keeping windows closed in your home and car. Stay in air-conditioned areas whenever possible. Remain indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. when pollen counts are highest. Exercise indoors if possible during pollen seasons. Never hang clothes outside to dry; they will only collect pollen. Wash your hair every night. Avoid secondhand smoke that can exacerbate allergies.

Antihistamines are the most common allergy medication. They work by blocking histamine actions in the nose, lungs and skin. Older antihistamines may have undesirable side effects. Newer, non-sedating antihistamines have been developed which are non-sedating, well tolerated and very effective, alleviating nasal, eye and skin allergies. Allergy injections (immunotherapy) are a course of treatment that builds up the body’s immunity. Consult with an Allergist to determine which is the best treatment for you.

Medications are revolutionizing the treatment of allergic rhinitis (hay fever). If you suspect that the cause of your symptoms is an allergy then it should be treated. Over the counter products are available but can cause drowsiness and have adverse interactions with many prescription drugs such as heart medications, blood pressure lowering drugs and some antidepressants. There are prescription antihistamines that do not cause side effects. There are nasal sprays or allergy injections that can give relief of symptoms. The group of medications called leukotriene blockers do not have the side effect of drowsiness and help asthma symptoms as well. Speak to your allergist concerning which course of treatment is best for you.

If you have any further questions please contact our hotline:

Ellen Epstein, M.D. FAAAAI, FACAAI
Adult and Pediatric Allergy
165 N. Village Ave.-Suite 141
Rockville Centre, NY 11570

Dr. Ellen Epstein is a Board Certified Adult and Pediatric Allergist in practice since 1986. Dr. Epstein earned her M.D. degree from New York University School of Medicine.  She is teaches at and is on the staff of Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Franklin Hospital Medical Center and South Nassau Communities Hospital.  She and her staff provide expert professional treatment in a warm and caring atmosphere.


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