Cold? Flu? or Allergies? A symptoms overview

MC&A December Newsletter - Cold? Flu? or Allergies? A symptoms overview

Cold? Flu? or Allergies…A symptoms overview

Cold? Flu? or Allergies…A symptoms overview

Every year, the vast majority of us suffer through at least one or two colds, and if we’re really unlucky, a good bout of the flu. In other words, a little sneezing isn’t uncommon. Unfortunately, viruses and bacteria aren’t the only things that can make us sneeze. Another culprit is allergies. In most cases, the only way to get rid of a cold or the flu is to ride it out and wait for our immune system to do its job. However, the same can’t be said for allergies. When it comes to allergies, the best approach is to avoid the source of the problem. As a result, it’s important to know if you’re dealing with an allergy, bacteria or virus, which may not be an easy call.

What is an Allergy?

The first step, of course, is to understand what an allergy is. In practice, it’s an abnormal reaction of the body, or more specifically, a misguided and excessive reaction that occurs when the body encounters a foreign substance. The substance in question is usually something quite harmless, but for some reason the person’s immune system mistakenly interprets it as a threat.

The allergic mechanism has two stages. During the first stage— sensitization—the body simply recognizes the allergen. Then, in the second stage, the body reacts to it. This is the allergic reaction, which manifests itself through various symptoms that may occur in isolation, in succession or even simultaneously (asthma, rhinitis, eczema, hives, food sensitivity, conjunctivitis, etc).

Allergic Rhinitis

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis include sneezing, runny nose and conjunctivitis. This is why people who experience these symptoms may think they have a cold or the flu. Regardless of the season when the problem occurs or whether it persists all year long, allergic rhinitis has some very specific symptoms that can be used to identify it. The trick is knowing how to recognize them.

First we need to forget any preconceived notions we might have about allergic rhinitis. Many of us mistakenly associate the problem with spring and summer. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case. While grass and pollen can certainly be the cause of allergic rhinitis, so can a number of other substances (mold, perfume, dust mites, insects, animals, etc.).

Symptoms

Allergic rhinitis almost always manifests itself through three symptoms: stuffy nose, runny nose and sneezing. There can be other uncomfortable symptoms as well like itchy eyes, nose and throat, the feeling of sand in your eyes, watery eyes, reduced sense of smell and a dry cough. Unlike a cold or the flu, there are no muscles aches, and headaches are fairly rare. But most importantly, the symptoms disappear once you’re no longer in contact with the allergen.

Avoidance

When you suffer from allergic rhinitis, the best thing you can do is avoid exposing yourself to the substance in question. The steps you take will of course depend on the nature of the allergen. If you’re allergic to cats, for instance, you can simply avoid being around them. Pollen, on the other hand, is more difficult to avoid unless you opt for a change of climate during the pollination period. Still, you can do things like avoid going for walks outdoors on days when there’s a lot of pollen in the air, or wash your  hair after a walk. In other cases, like an allergy to dust mites, controlling the environment may be the solution, particularly in your bedroom. It’s a good idea to use anti-dust mite covers, wash bedding often, vacuum regularly and avoid carpets, fur and stuffed animals. If you’re allergic to mold, note that its growth can be minimized by good room ventilation.
However, in the case of water seepage or leaks, renovation work will be required. And we can’t forget about the most toxic allergen of all: cigarette smoke. Note that in all of these cases, air purifiers with HEPA filters can reduce the density of airborne allergens in your home.

Medication and Immunotherapy

Certain medication can be used to treat allergic rhinitis. Which one to use depends on the frequency and intensity of the symptoms. The most commonly used drugs are antihistamines, which act quickly on symptoms of itchy and runny nose. Local steroids have an anti-inflammatory effect and are often prescribed for more serious cases of allergic rhinitis. Certain allergies, such as allergies to pollen, can also be treated with immunotherapy. This involves injecting the allergy sufferer with small doses of the allergen in order to desensitize them to it. It’s important to note that once you’ve identified the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, it’s crucial that you don’t ignore them because a mild case of rhinitis can quickly become more severe. If you suffer from allergic rhinitis, don’t hesitate to talk to a health care professional, who can provide you with the tools you need to resolve the
problem or least make it easier to live with.

excerpts provided by: Solareh November 2016

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