No matter what the season, a virus finds the weather perfect to invade your respiratory tract — leaving you sneezing, coughing, and down with a cold.
“A cold is a cold is a cold, regardless of when one suffers from it,” says Randy Wexler, MD, assistant professor of family medicine at the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus.
But in the summer months, when the winter doldrums and associated illnesses seem ages away, it’s easy to write off a cold as just summer allergies. The two are very different conditions — and if you pay close attention to your symptoms, you can usually figure out which is which.
Summer Colds allergy
“A cold is a virus and is different from allergies,” explains Dr. Wexler. “The seasonal difference is due to different virus strains in summer and winter.” So just because most people don’t catch a cold in the summer doesn’t mean that you can’t — or that you didn’t.
“Colds, or upper respiratory infections occur all year round, but are more prevalent in the colder months,” says Nancy Elder, MD, associate professor and director of research in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.
“The main difference between summer colds and winter colds is how commonly they occur,” says Dr. Elder. But a summer cold just feels worse somehow — it feels wrong to get a cold in the sunny summer weather. “Because colds occur less often in the summer months, I think some people feel a bit put-upon when they get a summer cold — it just doesn’t seem fair,” Elder adds.
So cold-prevention tips are important year-round, even when the sun is beating down. “The most important precaution is hand-washing, and not sharing cups or utensils,” says Wexler.
Summer Cold Allergies
The common cold and summer allergies have a lot in common. They can both cause:
- Runny or stuffy nose
“Sometimes, it can be hard to tell them apart, especially if someone has not had problems with allergies previously,” notes Elder. Often, “allergies have more watery, runny nose with lots of sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and can change based on physical location (for example, may get better if someone leaves the outdoors and goes into an air-conditioned, air-filtered house).”
Seasonal allergies, such as allergies to grasses and weeds, also strike about the same time each year (depending on the allergy) and persist throughout allergy season. A simple summer cold usually goes away within about 10 days — with or without common cold treatment — and tends not to cause itchy eyes or nose like allergies do.
Tips to Cope With a Summer Cold
“Treatment for a cold is the same whether summer or winter,” says Wexler. Here are some cold remedies to help you beat a summer cold and get back to enjoying the heat:
- Take an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant to unclog a stuffy nose.
- Use a saline spray to irrigate the nose and keep mucus loose.
- Take an OTC pain reliever (like Tylenol) to reduce fever and manage pain.
- Use cough drops and throat lozenges to manage that pesky dry cough.
- Gargle with warm salt water to soothe a sore throat.
- Don’t take an antibiotic.
- Allow your body to rest — get plenty of sleep, and avoid strenuous exercise.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in the heat.
- Don’t smoke.
- Head to the doctor if you don’t get relief within two days, or you are wheezing.
Allergies, on the other hand, may respond best to OTC antihistamines or prescription nasal sprays.
Though these medications may help you feel better and cope with a summer cold, “all medications have side effects, and some people prefer the effects of the URI to the effects of the medications,” says Elder. “These medicines do not make the URI go away any quicker, they just help you breathe a bit easier or have less of a headache while your body is busy fighting off the infection.”
Diagnosis of Cold Allergy
Finding out exactly what’s causing your allergies is an important step to ensuring you receive effective allergy treatment.If you think you have allergies, your doctor will probably recommend that you see an allergy specialist.Your allergist may perform a physical exam, look at your medical history, and perform the following tests:
Skin test – In this test, concentrated drops of various allergens are pricked or scratched on the surface of the skin. If you’re allergic to any of these allergens, you’ll develop a red bump (hive), redness, and swelling at the test spot.Doctors sometimes recommend a second type of test, in which a small amount of the allergen is injected into the skin of the arm.Certain medicines may interfere with the interpretation of allergy skin tests, so be sure to tell your healthcare provider about any prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs you’re taking.
Blood test – A test known as the radioallergosorbent test (RAST) measures the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in your bloodstream (known as IgE antibodies).The RAST test can help doctors measure your immune system’s response to a particular allergen.
The test measures the concentration of specific IgE antibodies in the blood. Quantitative IgE test results increase the possibility of ranking how different substances may affect symptoms. A rule of thumb is that the higher the IgE antibody value, the greater the likelihood of symptoms. Allergens found at low levels that today do not result in symptoms can nevertheless help predict future symptom development. The quantitative allergy blood result can help determine what a patient is allergic to, help predict and follow the disease development, estimate the risk of a severe reaction, and explain cross-reactivity.
A low total IgE level is not adequate to rule out sensitization to commonly inhaled allergens. Statistical methods, such as ROC curves, predictive value calculations, and likelihood ratios have been used to examine the relationship of various testing methods to each other. These methods have shown that patients with a high total IgE have a high probability of allergic sensitization, but further investigation with allergy tests for specific IgE antibodies for a carefully chosen of allergens is often warranted.
Laboratory methods to measure specific IgE antibodies for allergy testing include enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA, or EIA), radioallergosorbent test (RAST) and fluorescent enzyme immunoassay (FEIA).
Patch testing is a method used to determine if a specific substance causes allergic inflammation of the skin. It tests for delayed reactions. It is used to help ascertain the cause of skin contact allergy, or contact dermatitis. Adhesive patches, usually treated with a number of common allergic chemicals or skin sensitizers, are applied to the back. The skin is then examined for possible local reactions at least twice, usually at 48 hours after application of the patch, and again two or three days later.
|Allergy type||United States||United Kingdom|
|Allergic rhinitis||35.9 million (about 11% of the population)||3.3 million (about 5.5% of the population)|
|Asthma||10 million have allergic asthma (about 3% of the population). The prevalence of asthma increased 75% from 1980 to 1994. Asthma prevalence is 39% higher in African Americans than in Europeans.||5.7 million (about 9.4%). In six- and seven-year-olds asthma increased from 18.4% to 20.9% over five years, during the same time the rate decreased from 31% to 24.7% in 13- to 14-year-olds.|
|Atopic eczema||About 9% of the population. Between 1960 and 1990 prevalence has increased from 3% to 10% in children.||5.8 million (about 1% severe).|
|Anaphylaxis||At least 40 deaths per year due to insect venom. About 400 deaths due to penicillin anaphylaxis. About 220 cases of anaphylaxis and 3 deaths per year are due to latex allergy. An estimated 150 people die annually from anaphylaxis due to food allergy.||Between 1999 and 2006, 48 deaths occurred in people ranging from five months to 85 years old.|
|Insect venom||Around 15% of adults have mild, localized allergic reactions. Systemic reactions occur in 3% of adults and less than 1% of children.||Unknown|
|Drug allergies||Anaphylactic reactions to penicillin cause 400 deaths per year.||Unknown|
|Food allergies||About 6% of US children under age 3 and 3.5–4% of the overall US population. Peanut and/or tree nut (e.g. walnut) allergy affects about three million Americans, or 1.1% of the population.||5–7% of infants and 1–2% of adults. A 117.3% increase in peanut allergies was observed from 2001 to 2005, an estimated 25,700 people in England are affected.|
|Multiple allergies (Asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis together)||Unknown||2.3 million (about 3.7%), prevalence has increased by 48.9% between 2001 and 2005.|
Certain medications can help reduce your immune system’s reaction to allergens, which eases symptoms.
Allergy drugs come in both OTC and prescription forms. They can be taken as liquids, pills, nasal sprays, or eye drops.
Common allergy medicines include
These drugs work by blocking the effects of histamine (a chemical in the body that can cause allergy symptoms). They’re sometimes combined with other types of drugs.
Examples of antihistamines include
- Allegra (fexofenadine)
- Astelin or Astepro (azelastine)
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
- Clarinex (desloratadine)
- Claritin or Alavert (loratadine)
- Dimetane (brompheniramine)
- Emadine (emedastine)
- Livostin (levocabastine)
- Optivar (azelastine)
- Palgic (carbinoxamine)
- Xyzal (levocetirizine)
- Tavist (clemastine)
- Zyrtec (cetirizine)
These medicines relieve congestion by shrinking swollen nasal tissues and blood vessels, and are often prescribed along with antihistamines.
Examples of decongestants include:
- Sudafed (pseudoephedrine)
- Neo-Synephrine or Afrin (oxymetazoline)
- Some forms of Visine eye drops
- (fexofenadine and pseudoephedrine), Zyrtec-D (cetirizine and pseudoephedrine), and Claritin-D (loratadine and pseudoephedrine) contain both a decongestant and an antihistamine.
Mast cell stabilizers
- These medications block the release of immune system chemicals that play a role in allergic reactions.
- Examples of mast cell stabilizers include:
These drugs can help reduce inflammation and swelling.
Common steroids for allergies include:
- Common steroids for allergies include:
- Flonase or Veramyst (fluticasone)
- Nasacort (triamcinolone)
- Qnasl (beclomethasone)
- Nasonex (mometasone)
- Omnaris (ciclesonide)
- Severe lethargy
- Sometimes therapies typically used for asthma — such as leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs), bronchodilators, and certain steroids — are prescribed to help treat allergy symptoms.
- This medicine is used to treat anaphylaxis (a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction) until emergency treatment is administered.
- Epinephrine is administered as a shot.
- Allergy shots — also known as allergen immunotherapy — can be given to reduce sensitivity to certain allergens and improve symptoms.
- This therapy involves injecting small amounts of allergen extracts into your body to stimulate your immune system, without causing an allergic reaction. Your doctor will increase the allergen dose over time.
- The shots work like a vaccine, as your body develops immunity and tolerance to particular allergens after being exposed to them.
- They’re typically given over the course of three to five years.
- Both adults and children can receive allergy shots, but they’re usually not recommended for children under age 5.
- Allergy drops for the mouth — known as sublingual immunotherapy — are a newer way to acclimate the body to allergens without injections.
- In this therapy, a small dose of an allergen is delivered under the tongue to boost tolerance and immunity. The therapy is typically taken at home.
- This treatment is gaining popularity in the United States, but it’s still not considered an established therapy by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- It is useful for environmental allergies, allergies to insect bites, and asthma. Its benefit for food allergies is unclear and thus not recommended. Immunotherapy involves exposing people to larger and larger amounts of allergen in an effort to change the immune system’s response.
- Meta-analyses have found that injections of allergens under the skin is effective in the treatment in allergic rhinitis in childrenand in asthma.The benefits may last for years after treatment is stopped. It is generally safe and effective for allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis, allergic forms of asthma, and stinging insects.
- The evidence also supports the use of sublingual immunotherapy for rhinitis and asthma but it is less strong. For seasonal allergies the benefit is small.In this form the allergen is given under the tongue and people often prefer it to injections.Immunotherapy is not recommended as a stand-alone treatment for asthma
- One of the most important steps you can take to reduce your symptoms is to avoid allergy triggers.
- Allergic reactions can still occur, even if you’re diligent about staying away from known allergens.
Allergy Medicine While Pregnant
- Certain allergy medicines are safe to take during pregnancy, while others aren’t.
- Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking these drugs while you’re pregnant.
- Your healthcare provider can help you choose the safest treatment option for you and your baby.
Home Remedies for Cold Allergy
You can reduce many allergy symptoms at home by taking the following steps
Performing saline nasal irrigation
- With this method, you rinse out your sinuses with a saltwater solution to reduce congestion.
You can use a or a special squeeze bottle. Be sure to follow all usage and cleaning instructions provided by the manufacturer.
Washing bedding frequently
- You can greatly reduce your exposure to dust mites and pet dander by washing bedding and other items often. Be sure to use hot water.
Consuming local honey
- There’s little scientific evidence to back up this remedy, but some people report fewer allergy symptoms when they eat honey produced by bees in their region.
Using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter
- These filters trap allergens and other airborne irritants, which may reduce your symptoms.
Replacing carpeting with hard flooring
- This makes it easier to keep surfaces clean and free of possible allergens.
Taking herbal or other dietary supplements
- Certain herbs, like butterbur extract, may reduce allergy symptoms in some people, but there is little scientific evidence to support these claims.
- Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any dietary supplement before taking it.
Home Remedies for Cold Allergy
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