Since the rainy season started, I find myself waking up to a stuffy nose almost all the time now. This is nothing new, except now I spend a lot of time going through tissue boxes because it takes me way too long to figure out if I’m going through an allergic reaction or if this is a cold.
It doesn’t help that allergies and colds intersect in a number of ways: They give you a runny nose, throat irritations and (if you’re lucky like me) headaches. Fortunately, you can always tell which is which by paying attention to what your body is going through.
What makes it a cold?
Contrary to popular belief, the common cold doesn’t actually stem from feeling chilly during the rainy season.
Experts, however, have noted that our bodies are more vulnerable to viruses during humid weather—which is why you might be more likely to get a cold when it gets rainy. So if your sneezes are paired with a fever, body pain and coughing, you’ve got a cold on your hands.
Another symptom to look out for is sore throat. “People with a cold will often develop a sore throat, and that’s almost never seen with an allergy,” says Dr. Dean D. Metcalfe, chief of the laboratory of allergic diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Common colds hang around from three to 10 days, although you might feel worse before you get better. “For a traditional common cold, you can expect symptoms to increase in a few days and resolve within a week or so,” Stanford University School of Medicine’s Meng Chen explained.
To recover from a cold, all you need to do is rest, stay hydrated and take over-the-counter medicines like pain relievers or decongestants.
What makes it an allergy?
Allergies don’t just happen if you’re directly exposed to dust or pet dander, it can get triggered by the weather, too. The changes in temperature can cause sneezing, but your allergic reaction might stick around because mold and dust mites multiply during the rainy season.
If you find yourself sneezing a lot more during a specific season or during certain situations, those are probably allergies.
“If you notice it’s seasonal like clockwork, and every spring or fall you get these symptoms, it might be allergy-related,” added Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Associates of Murray Hill, New York City.
Symptoms you might experience with an allergic reaction include itching of the eyes, nose or throat, as well as eczema or hives. Another indicator of an allergic reaction is if your symptoms remain consistent.
“Allergies may feel extra intense for the first day or [two], but you’ll have the same symptoms day after day,” Cleveland Clinic ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Michael Benninger explained.
Unlike colds, the duration of an allergic reaction is less predictable. Seasonal allergies may linger for two to three weeks, but allergy symptoms generally won’t go away unless you get rid of the trigger or you get treatment. To figure out where your allergies are coming from, doctors will usually perform a physical exam and confirm with blood or skin tests.
While we may be more prone to colds or allergies during the rainy season, there’s always ways to steer clear of them. Sanitizing your space and washing your hands goes a long way, and make sure to put on protective gear whenever you’re heading out. Prevention is always better than cure, whether we’re talking about a cold or an allergy.
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Writer: ANGELA PATRICIA SUACILLO