Allergens or pollen are virtually everywhere. An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance that may be harmful and has a reaction to it. Many people can see the thick layers of pollen covering cars and lawns this time of year. Here in Florida, pollen counts remain consistently high almost all year around for certain allergens like grass and trees. More than ⅔ of allergy sufferers have symptoms all year long. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, in 2021 approximately 81 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with allergic rhinitis. This equals around 26% adults and 19% children. Unfortunately, allergies can get worse with age as the immune system changes. Let’s take a look at how you can tell the difference between allergy symptoms versus a cold and what you can do to help manage your own symptoms.
There are many differences between allergic rhinitis and the common cold or flu. The common cold has symptoms like fever, aches, chills, and either a runny nose or productive cough with yellowish drainage. Your nose may be congested, and your throat may be sore. Green or tan sputum can be indicative of an upper respiratory infection. Seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis can have some of the same symptoms like nasal congestion, sore or itchy throat, and even body aches. The major difference is the color of the drainage! If it’s clear or whitish then the problem is most likely allergies. You may experience a dry or slightly productive cough, itchy watery eyes, post nasal drip which cause a dry hacking cough. Sneezing or nasal congestion, hives, rashes, and in severe cases difficulty breathing and low blood pressure.
There is no cure for allergic rhinitis, the only thing we can do is try to manage it and learn how to avoid the highest pollen levels. Tree, grass, and ragweed pollen thrive during cool nights and warm days. When the day is windy and warm, pollen counts surge. Rain will help ground it but after rain levels will spike. Pollen counts are highest in the early morning and usually drop after noon. Molds grow quickly in the presence of heat and humidity. Keep windows and doors at home and in the car closed during high pollen counts. Take a shower and wash your hair before getting in bed after being outside working or playing.
Medications called antihistamines can help control symptoms. Saline nasal spray or a neti pot can be very helpful as they flush the nasal membranes preventing the pollen from being adsorbed. If medications aren’t helping consider seeing an allergist for immunotherapy which lessens the body’s response to the allergen.