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4/28/22blog post

achoo! springtime allergies have arrived

recognizing the difference between allergies and a cold

African American boys sneezingIf you live in the Miami Valley, you know that allergy season often hits hard – they don’t nickname it sinus valley for nothing! Allergies can cause a variety of symptoms and can often have you asking the question, “Is this a cold or allergies?” To help you recognize the difference between these things we asked our division chief of allergy and immunology, David Morris, MD, a few questions about seasonal allergies.

what causes allergies?

An allergy is your body’s way of reacting to certain plants, animals, foods, insect bites, etc. Our immune systems protect us from sicknesses by fighting germs like bacteria and viruses, but when we have allergies, our bodies tend to overreact and try to fight off things like grass or pollen.

Things that cause allergies are called allergens (i.e., grass, pollen foods, pets, insects, etc.). If you have a reaction to an allergen, then you may be allergic to that substance.

what are typical symptoms of seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies (mostly pollen/mold) usually come with a variety of symptoms such as:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy eyes
  • Itchy ears
  • Congestion
  • Scratchy throat
  • Headache

how long do allergies last?

There is not a definitive answer to this question. Allergies can last as long as the allergen (pollen/mold) is in the air. This can last for a few days or a few weeks. If your child’s allergies last longer than a few weeks he/she could be experiencing something called chronic sinusitis. After two weeks of symptoms, an evaluation by your primary doctor is warranted.

what’s the difference between a cold and allergies?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a cold and allergies. But there are a couple key differences you can look for.

  1. Allergies can cause your nose and eyes to itch, and this is usually not the case with a cold. Also, if you think you have a cold and it is lasting longer than two weeks, then it is usually allergies.
  2. Another difference between the two is your mucus (the stuff that comes from your nose or sometimes cough). With allergies, mucus is usually clear and more like a water consistency. With a cold, mucus is thicker and can have a yellowish color to it (although this indicator is less reliable).
  3. Fevers do not typically accompany allergy symptoms.

how are allergies treated?

It may be helpful to take an allergy medicine to help your symptoms. These medicines can be pills, liquids or even nasal sprays, and many can be bought over the counter. You should check with your child’s doctor first before giving allergy medicine. You can also try to avoid the allergy as best you can. If the pollen and mold count is high, try to limit your time outside during high pollen counts. Showering in the evenings to wash off pollen can also help.

If allergy medicines aren’t helping, and your allergies are lasting longer than 10 to 12 weeks or more, you may have chronic sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis causes the sinus cavities to become infected due to being blocked and filled with fluid. This can be caused from allergies and other infections. Symptoms of chronic sinusitis can include pressure in the face, mucus (snot) dripping down the back of the throat, toothache, ear pain, headache, cough, tiredness, and more.

If your child has “allergies” lasting longer than 10-12 weeks, it’s important to follow up with your child’s pediatrician to make sure that their sinus cavities are not blocked.

If you have questions about allergies or think your child may need to see an allergist, click here

David Morris, MD

division chief allergy / immunology
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