Spring is here and unfortunately as temperatures go up, the air becomes full of allergens. Over 50 million people living in the United States suffer with spring allergies, and though they may have begun experiencing symptoms as early as February, they can suffer well into summer. The most common triggers are pollen, grass, mold and ragweed. But temperature changes can also be a problem for your immune system, making it easier to contract a cold, flu or even COVID-19. So, determining what is causing your runny nose or congestion can be hard to identify, and in turn, treat. Here are some tips to identify the correct problem, allergy or illness. 

Understanding Allergies

For allergy sufferers, the allergy season may mean a number of annoying symptoms including runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, congestion and sneezing. Unlike for someone who is sick, if allergies are causing your symptoms, they will become worse around your triggers, like pollen, and will continue for as long as the allergen is present in the air. However, if you remove yourself from an area with the allergen, your symptoms may subside. 

This means the best way to treat allergies is to avoid them. You can check daily pollen levels if you have a local weather app or by going to the National Allergy Bureau online. If you know you are allergic to things like pollen, dust, mold, etc. try to eliminate it in your home and limit your exposure as much as you can. Allergy medications are helpful to treat allergy symptoms and should continue to be taken as recommended by your healthcare provider. Antihistamines, nasal steroids and decongestants are over-the counter drugs that may treat the symptoms until you are no longer around the allergen. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out what allergy treatment is right for you. 

Unfortunately, this can mean several weeks or months of vigilance for some people with allergies. As temperatures rise, plants produce more pollen, increasing ragweed and other allergens. Moisture from increased rainfall and floods can raise the risk of mold. Additionally, warmer temperatures can allow allergens to flourish in new regions and for allergy seasons to last longer.

Determining if it’s a Cold, Influenza (Flu) or COVID-19

Though some symptoms are similar to allergies, there are additional symptoms that may signal a respiratory illness instead. For instance, you may experience a fever or body aches when you are sick with the flu or COVID-19, but never when you are only experiencing allergies. Similarly, fatigue, sore throat or chest discomfort are very rare with allergies, but common when sick with a cold, flu or COVID-19. COVID-19 symptoms may additionally include loss of taste or smell, nausea and diarrhea. 

It is important to know if it's allergies or a respiratory illness to get the correct treatment. If you have the flu, you will need to get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Over the counter decongestants or pain relievers may help with some symptoms, but you may want to see your doctor to find out if an antiviral medication or other treatment is right for you. 

When to Contact Your Doctor

Being able to tell the difference between allergies and sickness is important so you know when to talk to your healthcare provider. 

If you have spring allergies, you should work with your allergist or healthcare provider to devise strategies to avoid triggers and prevent symptoms. Some things they may suggest are:

  • Work with your allergist to identify what pollens or other triggers you are sensitive to and monitor pollen and mold levels. Local weather reports on radio and television often include this information during allergy seasons. 
  • As often as you can during allergy season, keep windows and doors shut at your house and in your car.
  • Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after you’ve been working or playing outdoors.
  • Wear a N-95 mask when mowing the lawn, gardening, or doing other outdoor chores and take appropriate medication to combat symptoms.
  • Take steps to improve your indoor air quality

If you have a respiratory virus like the cold or the flu, watch symptoms closely and if they continue for more than a week or two, let your healthcare provider know. If symptoms continue to get worse, you need to see a doctor as something as seemingly minor as the flu can develop into bronchitis, pneumonia or become life-threatening. You can also greatly decrease your risk of getting severe influenza by getting your annual flu shot and maintaining good hygiene.

Can Allergies Cause Sickness?

In both spring and fall, people with seasonal allergies will find their lungs and nasal passages irritated. This makes you even more susceptible to contracting a cold, flu, or other respiratory illness. It can also mean that if you contract an illness your symptoms are likely to be more severe. 

Learn more about managing allergy symptoms this season.

Freedom From Smoking Clinic
, | May 29, 2024
Freedom From Smoking Clinic
Detroit, MI | May 29, 2024