If you've been sneezing and coughing all week, chances are someone has bemoaned the curse of the summer cold.
But with all those warnings that this year's was expected to be one of the worst allergy seasons ever, how do you know if you really have a cold or if your body is simply reacting to all the time you're spending outdoors?
"The cold virus is sensitive to the higher temps and is hardier in the winter," says Shireen Wrigley, a nurse practitioner with CMG CareToday in Phoenix, Ariz.
So chances are your "summer cold" is an allergic reaction.
A true summer cold, Wrigley says, is a virus.
" When your body is exposed to a cold virus, your immune system jumps into action and attacks the virus," she explains. "The symptoms of a cold, like runny nose, congestion and cough, are the effects of your immune system working hard to make you well."
On the other hand, Wrigley says, "Allergies are caused by an immune system that is overactive. Your body mistakes pollen, mold, and other harmless but irritating substances for germs and attacks them. Your body, in response to these substances, releases chemicals called histamines (just as it does when you fight off a cold). This causes swelling of the nasal and sinus passages which can cause runny nose, coughing, and sneezing."
The big difference?
Allergies aren't contagious, and they're easier to treat.
How To Tell Them Apart:
Cold: Lasts 3-14 days; More common during winter months but can occur any time during the year; Symptoms show up a few days after you are infected by the virus
Allergy: Lasts anywhere from days to months -- as long as you are exposed to the allergen; Can crop up any time – it depends on when your body reacts to the substance some people are in the fall, others in the spring. Symptoms can begin immediately after exposure to the obnoxious substance (allergen)
Cold: Often accompanied by cough and runny or congested nose (usually with yellow color); Sometimes accompanied by fatigue, body aches, sore throat; Rarely accompanied by a fever
Allergy: Often accompanied by itchy, watery eyes, a sore throat and a runny or congested nose (usually clear); Sometimes accompanied by cough, fatigue.
"The symptoms of colds and allergies overlap," says Wrigley. "The most important point to remember is that colds do not last longer than two weeks. If after two weeks you are still having symptoms it most likely is allergies. If however, the symptoms change in character or intensity it could be something worse than a cold and most likely needs medical attention."
Do you have a summer cold?
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