Do you have a cold or winter allergies?

flu sneezing sick
It might not be a cold; you could be allergic to something.
Credit: Flickr/foshydog

It’s been 14 days and that cold you caught is still hanging on. What do you do? Probably nothing — it’s just a cold, right? Actually, you might have an allergy. No, allergies aren’t just a spring thing.

“What I tell [patients] is, if it lasts for more than nine days, it’s not a cold — it’s probably either a sinus infection or an allergy,” says Dr. Joan Lehach, an integrative medicine physician specializing in allergy, asthma and clinical immunology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

Lehach knows it can be hard to distinguish a cold from allergies. “The things that they have in common are you get congestion, you can get a cough, you can get postnasal drip, you can get a headache. You just feel tired and not well.”

But there are other signs that indicate your bug may be an environmental issue, rather than a bacterial one. Typically, you are not going to get a fever with an allergy. Your mucus can be clearer in color — with colds, sometimes it turns green or yellow. You don’t get body aches with an allergy, typically, whereas with a cold you might.

Winter allergies do exist, and if you get sneezy during the spring and summer, chances are you’ll be affected in colder months too. Common culprits? “Indoor things like dust mites and mold,” Lehach says, adding that she’s seen more patients this year than last for a combination of allergies, sinus infections and earaches.

“I think part of it has to do with the craziness of the temperature, where it has been so warm, and so rainy, and so cold, back and forward,” she says. “A lot of the mold [and] pollen is still around, which, typically, when it’s very cold gets chilled off.”

Allergies are not just annoying — they can also lead to sinus infections, which are also similar to colds. Allergies set you up for getting actual colds and viruses because your immune system is stressed.

By paying attention to your nasal health, Lehach says you can reduce your risk of catching a wintertime bug. Follow her advice:

  1. “The most important thing you can do — and this applies to colds, flus and allergies — is wash your hands and face.”
  2. “In terms of breathing, I tell people to get a little gadget for their house and try to keep the humidity in their house around 50 percent. If the air is too dry, it sets you up for a dry mucosa with cracks in your nose, so when you are exposed to viruses you are more likely to get infected because you have these microscopic cracks. And if it’s too moist you are going to grow the mold and the dust mites and the indoor allergens [that] make your symptoms worse as well. For five or six bucks you can get this little gadget that will tell you the humidity in your house, and then you can either get a humidifier or a dehumidifier, or do something as simple as putting a pot on the radiator that moistens the air.”
  3. “Allergy symptoms benefit from herbs just like colds and the flu. Rootology is an excellent choice for nasal allergy prevention and treatment.”

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