Seasonal allergies—also known as hay fever—effect thousands of people a year. Allergies can develop at any age, and its prevalence in adults is rising. But how do you know you have allergies and not just a cold? What’s the difference?
Colds are caused by viruses—several hundred different viruses. If one of these viruses gets into your body, it’s attacked by your immune system. Some of the effects of this immune system response are symptoms like coughing or congestion. Cold viruses are also contagious. If an infected person coughs, sneezes or shakes hands with you, you can easily catch their cold. Luckily colds are only temporary. After a couple of weeks—at the most—your immune system has the virus under control and you stop having symptoms.
Allergies are not caused by viruses, but by an overactive immune system. For reasons which we’re not completely clear, your body mistakes substances like pollen and dust for germs. This causes the immune system to react the same way it would if you had a cold. In both cases, your body releases chemicals—such as histamine—that can cause a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and swollen nasal passages. Fortunately, allergies aren’t contagious but some people may inherit a tendency to develop them.
Unfortunately there is no cure for allergies—although symptoms can be controlled through the use of prescription or over-the-counter sprays and medicines. There are measures you can take, however, to help lessen allergy symptoms.
- Use a dehumidifier. These are helpful for indoor allergens such as mold, pet dander, mildew or dust.
- Invest in a HEPA filter. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters ease symptoms by trapping allergens and other airborne irritants, such as pet dander and dust. Portable cleaners equipped with HEPA filters can purify the air in small rooms and confined spaces, but whole-house systems are usually more effective.
- Take a shower. A steaming hot shower is great for temporarily relieving stuffed noses. But that’s not the only way they can help spring allergy sufferers. A quick shower after spending time outdoors can help remove allergens from your skin and hair as well as prevent them from spreading to other indoor surfaces such as furniture and walls.
- Wash your clothes! The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends taking of your clothes and shoes immediately after you’ve been outside gardening or mowing your lawn. To help remove allergens even further, put these clothes in a sealed bag and wash them separately.
- Try some steam. Congested but don’t want to constantly get in the shower? Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and take the pan off the stovetop. Tent a bath towel over the saucepan—keep your face far away enough to avoid burns—and inhale deeply for 5 to 10 minutes. You can repeat this procedure a few time a day if needed.
- A Neti pot is a great option to address nasal congestion. Many people use it regularly pot claiming that this device alleviates congestion, and facial pain and pressure. Allergy sufferers find that nasal irrigation can be an effective way to relieve sinus symptoms when used along with standard sinus treatments.
Have questions about allergies? Want to find out more about allergy shots or medications? Make an appointment with Dr. Schumacher at 614-299-9909.