You’re coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose. You feel rotten. Is it a cold or allergies? Telling the difference between colds that go around and allergies that never leave is relatively simple, but getting to the bottom of allergy symptoms often requires testing by a medical professional.
The common cold and allergies share a connection; and it’s with the immune system. Cold viruses invade the body and are attacked by the immune system, leading to the symptoms we know all too well. In an allergic reaction, the immune system overreacts to a specific trigger: pollens, molds, dust, animal dander and plenty of others. Histamines are released, just as with colds, leading to the sneezing and drippy nose that runs us down with fatigue.
The first clue to a cold is the calendar as they are most common in the winter. The second is symptoms: If you have body aches or a fever, it’s probably a cold (or flu). If you have itchy eyes, mouth or throat, that most likely indicates allergies. Another clue is in those tissues that are piling up. If the mucus is watery and clear, the culprit may be allergies. If not, suspect a cold or flu.
Want to know for sure? Grab that calendar again. Cold symptoms typically last no longer than 10 days. That’s how long it takes for the body to fight off the virus. Since allergies are based on an immune system overreaction, allergy symptoms can persist for weeks or even months until the cause is identified and treatment is begun.
To help prevent colds, just follow the advice of moms everywhere: Avoid people who are sick and wash those hands. Reducing allergy symptoms means avoiding the allergy triggers. Some experts suggest shutting the windows, staying indoors and avoiding the family dog and or cat. But that’s no way to live. Instead, get tested to identify specific allergy triggers and plan a course of treatment.
Allergy skin testing is simple, quick, and easy to perform. It is low cost and has high sensitivity. The skin of the upper back or forearm is cleansed with rubbing alcohol then pricked with devices containing specific allergens. These include airborne allergens, such as tree, grass and weed pollens, molds, dust and animal danders. Testing is done in the office and results are available during the same appointment.
Armed with allergy testing results, doctor and patient can work to develop an immunotherapy program. An individualized extract prescription for allergy injections or allergy drops is prepared for each patient. Rather than reducing symptoms after they have started, allergen immunotherapy helps the body develop resistance to the pollen particles so that symptoms are significantly reduced and much less severe. And while allergy shots are the most widely used immunotherapy treatment in the United States, finding time for weekly allergy injections can be difficult. Allergy drops however, offer “a safe and effective alternative to weekly injections.” Patients take a daily dose of their drops and advance through build up dilutions to reach their maintenance dose in just one month. Both allergy injections and allergy drops use the same antigens. Injections are covered by most insurance plans and require an office visit. Allergy drops are not covered by insurance, but they can be self-administered at home.