Allergies make me feel sick

Depending on where you live, spring can mean that flowers are blooming and pollen is in the air—or that the last gasp of winter is still keeping the weather chilly.

If you’re sick this time of year, it might be difficult to tell if it’s a run-of-the-mill common cold or seasonal allergy symptoms brought on by changes to the weather and environment.

We asked Dr. Howard Willson, former Department Chief of Emergency Medicine at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, to weigh in on how to tell the difference and why it matters.


How can I tell if I’m experiencing a cold or allergies?

Your body responds to colds and allergies in very different ways, and each condition requires a different approach to fixing it.

Seasonal allergy symptoms appear immediately after contact with allergy triggers like dust, pollen, trees, or grass.

Some allergic symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose (mucus: clear, watery)
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy eyes, ears, or throat
  • Wheezing
  • Sneezing
  • An occasional or infrequent cough

Remember that with allergies, symptoms can be long-lasting depending on exposure to the allergic trigger. For example, trees that bloom in the spring will bloom the whole season and may trigger allergic reactions until summertime.

How can I tell if I have a cold?

With colds, symptoms take a few days to appear after contact with the virus. Look for the following:

  • Runny or stuffy nose (mucus: often thick and yellow)
  • Chills
  • Sneezing
  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Frequent cough
  • Body aches and pain
  • Fever (less common)

You should also look for these specific clues to determine whether you’re experiencing a cold or allergies:

  • Fever vs. no fever. If you have a fever, you likely have a cold
  • Body aches vs. nose or throat itching/irritation. Body aches and pain indicate a cold, while an itchy throat indicates an allergic reaction
  • Chills all over your body vs. chills in one area. Chills all over indicate a cold, while isolated chills indicate allergies

What if I have more severe symptoms?

Are your symptoms lasting longer than 2-3 weeks? Is your fever or difficulty breathing getting more intense? Monitor your symptoms, and definitely speak to your doctor if they get worse

Sinus infections are not uncommon. Symptoms include fever, facial pressure, and thick, dark mucus. Also, keep an eye out for potential lung infections. Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing up thick phlegm.

How should I treat my cold?

If you have a cold, you can only treat the symptoms until it clears up. Take over-the-counter decongestants and medications for fever while the virus works its way out of your system.

How should I treat seasonal allergy symptoms?

For allergies, take over-the-counter antihistamines. Remember that although medications like Zyrtec or Benadryl work very well, they also have side effects. So speak to your pharmacist about the best option for your situation.

Both colds and allergies are annoying, uncomfortable, and can get in the way of living your life. To get expert help on how to treat your symptoms, use services like your 24/7 nurse line, telehealth, and other programs that can provide treatment advice—without leaving the comfort of your home.

Dr. Willson is the former Department Chief of Emergency Medicine at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. He received a BA from Dartmouth, an M.D. from the University of Illinois College of Medicine, and an MBA from Wharton.

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What do I have? Cold, flu or seasonal allergies?

Being sick can really put a damper on your day or week, and if you’re achy, sneezing and just downright miserable, you may not be able to tell if you have a cold, the flu or allergies. Although you may opt to try to fight the sickness with hot tea and bed rest, it’s best to know what ailment is plaguing you so you can treat it accordingly—especially if it’s contagious. Cindy Weston, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing, helps break down these congesting conditions.

The common cold, flu and allergies are extremely common, and many people will experience them throughout the year. Still, even though these conditions are so often seen, they can still be tricky to diagnose. “Diagnosis is based on symptoms and supportive diagnostic data,” Weston said. “Someone will come in and think they have a cold, and it may be the flu, and sometimes people think they have the flu and it is a common cold or allergies.”

A common cold

There are many different viruses that can lead to a common cold, and they can be difficult to treat because antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections. The only thing you can do for the common cold is treat your symptoms, drink fluids and get plenty of rest.

“The common cold is complicated to treat and can’t be cured, but rest and nutrition seem to be the best approach,” Weston said. “You can take medications to treat the symptoms and make yourself more comfortable.”

A cold can have a variety of symptoms, but the most common include:

  • Mild fatigue
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion, runny nose, sneezing
  • Watery eyes or nose
  • Head, chest or nasal congestion

A cold will usually go away on its own within a week and typically doesn’t warrant a trip to your health care provider. If you’re still feeling bad after a week, however, or if your symptoms are severe or you have an underlying chronic condition like asthma, it might be time to seek help. The common cold can happen year-round, however it seems to be more common in the colder months when everyone migrates indoors and the virus is more communicable.

“A cold can be very tricky because some of the symptoms may linger,” Weston said. “Sometimes your cold may be gone, but your cough could persist for another month.”

The flu

Influenza is a year-round viral infection, with high outbreaks occurring between fall and spring, and one of the most common illnesses in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were an estimated 19 million medically attended cases of influenza during the 2014–2015 flu season.

The flu, which can be prevented with a yearly vaccine, can have very similar symptoms to a common cold, but with a few distinct differences.

“The flu typically comes on quick and strong as opposed to a nagging cold,” Weston said. “You may be feeling fine during the morning but can feel horrible, with a fever and aches, in the afternoon.”

Another difference between the flu and the common cold is the type of aches and pain. “Aches and pains are prevalent in both conditions, but with a cold, the aches are mild and generally associated with congestion,” Weston said. “The flu can present with deep muscle pains in your large muscles, including your legs and back.”

Common flu symptoms can include:

  • Whole body aches
  • High fever (over 101 degrees)
  • Extreme exhaustion or fatigue
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Head, chest or nasal congestion

When you have the flu, it’s best to get medical treatment—and fast. Anti-viral medications may be prescribed within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to reduce the intensity of symptoms and lessen the chance of complications.

“Both the flu and cold can lead to further problems like pneumonia, bronchitis or sinusitis,” Weston said. “The flu is more likely to do so, but it’s best to treat the symptoms and stay well rested to lessen the chances of further problems.”

Seasonal Allergies

Another common explanation for itchy or runny eyes or nose is seasonal allergies. When pollen is blown around on a windy day, these allergens can trigger chemicals in your body to defend against them.

Seasonal allergies are typically easier to diagnose, mainly because of the lack of certain symptoms commonly found with the flu or a common cold.

“Allergies will not present with a fever,” Weston said. “With allergies, there will be itchiness and irritation around the nose or eyes, but the symptoms should be present only as long as the allergens remain.”

Seasonal allergies can develop at any age, so just because you didn’t have allergies during the last change of seasons, doesn’t mean you can’t develop them the next time. Also, allergies can be an asthma trigger, so getting a grasp on them can be important before they lead to further problems.

Common seasonal allergy symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny, itchy nose
  • Red, watery and itchy eyes
  • Head, chest or nasal congestion
  • Cough
What should I do?

The flu requires prescription medications to prevent complications, but apart from that, a cold, flu and allergies can be treated with over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines or decongestants, and plenty of rest and hydration. Be sure to use as described and contact your health care provider or pharmacist to make sure you’re not double-dosing on medications.

“If you think you might have a cold or the flu, avoid spreading the germs to others,” Weston added. “It’s best to stay home until you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours or have completed a day’s worth of prescribed medication.”

Also, if your nasal congestion becomes overwhelming, rinsing your sinuses with a nasal irrigation pot can help remove allergens and prevent infection in your sinuses.

“Nasal irrigation systems can work to help prevent infection in your sinuses,” Weston said. “Just be sure that you’re using it as directed and with properly filtered or previously-boiled water.”

Be sure to contact your health care provider if your fever doesn’t go away, or if you have trouble breathing or keeping food down. While complications are rare, they are a possibility and should be caught early.

— Dominic Hernandez

When it’s spring, you might be inclined to write off that congestion, coughing, and sneezing as “allergies” rather than admit that you’re sick. While an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from Real Seasonal Allergies, it’s notoriously difficult to figure out what actually triggers certain symptoms.

Pull the ol’ allergy card, and you could end up ignoring a more serious diagnosis — and deter yourself from getting to the bottom of it ASAP. (It doesn’t help that untreated allergies can trigger chronic sinus infections, ear infections, sleep issues, and asthma — which makes treatment even more complicated.)

“The treatment for allergies is so different from the treatment for the flu or a cold,” says Beth E. Corn, MD, associate professor of clinical immunology at the Allergy and Immunology department of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. If you treat a viral infection with antihistamines (the go-to remedy for allergies), you subject yourself to side effects such as loopiness when all you really need is cough syrup and lots of liquids, Dr. Corn explains.

“The quicker you find out what it is, the sooner you can make interventions to feel better,” Dr. Corn promises. So look out for the signs your symptoms aren’t allergies, but an actual, potentially contagious illness like a sinus infection, cold, or the flu.

5 Signs Your Symptoms Aren’t Caused by Allergies

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1. Your snot is green. It’s not pretty, and it’s a sign of infection.

2. You have a fever. Hot flashes and chills are symptoms that are never linked to allergies.

3. You feel pain in your cheeks. While allergies can trigger sinus pressure around the eyes and temples, pain that extends through the cheeks and even to the teeth can signal inflammatory build-up that’s common in sinus infections — not allergies. And that could require antibiotics to clear up.

4. You have a cough … but that’s not all. “You have to look at the constellation of symptoms because it’s very hard to differentiate between an allergic cough and one caused by post-nasal drip related to a virus,” Dr. Corn explains. So a cough, plus anything else on this list = something more serious than allergies.

5. Congestion + bad breath. Terrible congestion is the hallmark of seasonal allergies, but it can occur for a host of reasons. When paired with smelly breath or a foul taste in the mouth, it’s probably a sign of infection.

If you think you’re sick (aka it’s not allergies): See your doctor to rule out an infection that requires antibiotics (or get a prescription), strep, and the flu.

4 Signs Your Symptoms Are Caused by Allergies

Andy Roberts / Getty Images

1. You have a combo of nasal congestion, a scratchy throat, a runny nose, pressure around your eyes, and itchy ears and eyes. Looks like allergies, smells would smell like allergies too, if you weren’t too stuffed up to smell.

2. Your symptoms last more than two weeks. If your nose runs on and on, with a scratchy throat and lots of congestion that gets no worse, but no better, it’s probably just allergies.

3. Your snot is yellow or clear. Even with pale yellow snot, you’re OK.

4. You’re fine the rest of the year. Asthmatic coughing and wheezing that starts up juuust about the same time as the flowers bloom — in April, May, or June — is an unlikely coincidence. *Puts money on allergies.*

5. If you do think you have allergies: Consider taking an OTC antihistamine, or better yet, see an allergist who can tell you exactly what to take and whether you could benefit from a nasal steroid or a nasal spray. And feel better!

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Elizabeth Narins Senior fitness and health editor Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more.

Is it Allergies or a Cold?

Learn Some of the Differences Between Allergies and a Cold

While colds and allergies can have similar symptoms, here are some questions to help you tell if you need to reach for a Claritin® product or curl up with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and binge watch your favorite shows:

1. How quickly did your symptoms strike?

Allergy symptoms tend to hit all at once when you come into contact with an allergen. Symptoms of a cold usually appear one at a time and develop slowly over a few days.

2. How long have you had symptoms?

Colds typically run their course within 7-10 days. Allergy symptoms can last weeks or months, and will be present as long as you are exposed to the allergen. If your cold symptoms last longer than 10 days, talk to your doctor.

3. What color and texture is your mucus?

Runny nose and sneezing are common symptoms of both colds and allergies. But you can often tell the difference by looking at the color and texture of your mucus. If you have allergies, your mucus will typically be clear, thin and watery. If you have a cold, the mucus from coughing or sneezing may be thick and yellow or green. Yellow or green mucus could indicate an infection requiring medical attention.

4. Do you have body aches and pains?

Colds may come with slight body aches and pains. Allergies are not usually associated with body aches and pains.

5. What time of year is it?

Colds are more common during the winter months,but could also occur any time of the year. Indoor allergies can happen year-round and outdoor seasonal allergies are more common in the spring through fall when pollen counts are high.1

Nausea and Vomiting

Food allergies are the most likely allergies to cause nausea and/or vomiting. A reaction occurs when your immune system overreacts to a food or a substance in a food, incorrectly identifying it as a danger and triggering a protective response.

You don’t normally associate seasonal allergies with nausea — for good reason. Nausea and vomiting are rarely, if ever, symptoms of a seasonal allergy. Typical seasonal allergy symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and maybe a rash.


Find an allergist

If you encounter something you’re allergic to, your immune system considers the substance dangerous and releases a chemical called histamine to counteract it. Histamine can cause a variety of symptoms, including rash, headache, sneezing, runny nose and swelling — and in the case of food allergies, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If the allergen is something you breathe in, your reaction will probably affect your eyes, nose and lungs. If you eat the allergen, you’re more likely to have symptoms in your mouth, stomach and intestines.

Other food allergy symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Repetitive cough
  • Shock or collapse of the circulatory system
  • Tight, hoarse throat; trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the tongue, affecting the ability to talk or breathe
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale or blue skin
  • Dizziness or feeling faint

The most severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment with an epinephrine auto injector followed by emergency treatment.

Are Allergies Making you Sick?

By: Hotze Health | Comments: 2 | September 6th, 2017

Allergies are more than just a nuisance. You may not think a sneezy, runny nose is anything to worry about, but allergy symptoms are an indicator of an underlying problem and should not be ignored.

Although respiratory discomfort is the most obvious indicator of an allergic reaction, allergies can cause symptoms throughout the body. Food allergens can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms such as canker sores, gastritis, and diarrhea. Recurrent or chronic urinary tract infections, childhood ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and yeast infections commonly have an allergic basis. Asthma is caused by underlying allergies, as well. Other serious conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome, can be exacerbated by allergies, especially allergies to foods.

Not only do allergies contribute to poor health; they can make you feel miserable and negatively affect your quality of life. Allergies also contribute to days missed at work and increased healthcare costs. Allergies can begin at any age, including after childbirth and in midlife.


Due to the amount of inflammation and stress placed on the body and your immune system, if you choose to not treat your allergies, your risk for serious illness is increased. With inflammation, your immune system becomes overburdened, and the inflammatory triggers are sent through your bloodstream where they affect nerves, organs, connective tissues, joints, and muscles. Chronic inflammation can slowly destroy your organs and the ability to function optimally. Meanwhile, headaches, migraines, depression, anxiety and memory problems can occur if inflammation and swelling affect the brain.


People with food and environmental allergies commonly have weak adrenal function, also known as adrenal fatigue. Most allergies involve the release of histamine and other pro-inflammatory substances. Cortisol, one of the primary hormones produced by the adrenal glands, is a strong anti-inflammatory hormone. The more histamine that is released, the more cortisol it takes to control the inflammatory response and the harder the adrenal glands have to work to produce more cortisol. The harder they have to work, the more fatigued they become.


Insomnia is common in people with hay fever and allergies, for obvious reasons. When you have a sinus headache, a stuffed up nose and can’t breathe, it can be difficult to sleep. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that people with allergic rhinitis from hay fever and other types of allergies are more than twice as likely to suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia. Lack of adequate, sound sleep can lead to irritability, weight gain, and decreased cognitive function.


Unless your allergies are identified and treated, chronic health problems can result. Problems ranging from sinus infections, skin disorders, asthma and migraine headaches can finally begin to improve when allergies are identified and treated.

Historically, treating allergies has required weekly visits to the doctor for a shot, followed by a waiting period to make sure there is no reaction. That’s not the case anymore. With allergy drops, treatment is easier than ever. By placing a few drops under the tongue each day, your body will build up antibodies to help fight off the allergens naturally. You can do this from the comfort of your own home or take them on the go. No office visit or wait time.

If you’re constantly dealing with allergy symptoms, then it might be time for a change. Let us help. Contact a wellness consultant for a complimentary consultation at 281-698-8698 to find out how you can fix your allergies for good.

What Are Allergies and Why Do They Make You Feel So Bad?

There’s pollen on the breeze. Suddenly your eyes begin to itch, and you have trouble breathing through your nose. It’s your allergies acting up again, and they seem to give you problems every year. But what’s going on inside your body when you have an allergy?

“Allergens are mostly innocuous. But when someone who is susceptible to developing allergies encounters an allergen like pollen, for example, their immune system triggers a response to fight the perceived danger.”

Turns out it’s all a big misunderstanding.

Allergies occur when the immune system misidentifies typically harmless allergens as invading foreign substances and tries to fight them off. The sneezing, congestion and hives you experience is your own body’s immune system battling what it perceives as a danger.

“Allergens are mostly innocuous,” says Millie Kwan, MD, PhD, an allergist with the UNC Allergy and Immunology Clinic. “But when someone who is susceptible to developing allergies encounters an allergen like pollen, for example, their immune system triggers a response to fight the perceived danger.”

Here’s what happens during an allergic reaction:

  1. Exposure to an allergen prompts white blood cells, called T and B cells, to spring into action. B cells are responsible for the immune system’s adaptive antibody response, so they play a critical role in our health. But sometimes, they overreact and identify substances, like tree pollen, as a threat. Then they produce antibodies to fight that allergen.
  2. These antibodies, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE), bind to another kind of white blood cell, called a mast cell. When you encounter an allergen, the antibodies signal to the mast cells that it’s time to fight.
  3. The mast cells release histamine and other inflammatory molecules to battle what the body perceives as a danger. Histamine causes small blood vessels, known as capillaries, to become leaky. This makes the blood vessels more permeable, causes tissue to swell, and allows more of the white cell troops to join the battle. Making matters worse, as the mast cells release these inflammatory molecules, they are also signaling the rest of the immune system to mobilize against the threat.

“That’s how you get the typical allergic response,” Kwan says. “Your immune system is trying to tell your nose to sneeze to get rid of the pollen, and your eyes to water because pollen particles are landing there. Your nose is producing a large amount of mucus to get what it perceives as foreign substances out of your body—in essence, that’s the body’s goal during an allergic response.”

If you experience seasonal allergies, talk to your doctor about the best treatment for you. Need a doctor? Find one near you.

Millie Kwan, MD, PhD, is an allergist with the UNC Allergy and Immunology Clinic, a faculty member at the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center, and an assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine.

Can Seasonal Allergies Cause Nausea?

Seasonal Allergies Defined

Allergies are caused by an overcompensation in the immune system in response to an allergen. With respect to seasonal allergies, these allergens are things like pollen and mold that are released at only certain times of the year. Most symptoms of seasonal allergies are respiratory and can include itching and watery eyes, nose, mouth and throat. Frequently, people with seasonal allergies can experience nausea. The nausea associated with seasonal allergies is usually not due to the allergen specifically but to the body’s response to the allergen.

Allergies are caused by an overcompensation in the immune system in response to an allergen. With respect to seasonal allergies, these allergens are things like pollen and mold that are released at only certain times of the year. Most symptoms of seasonal allergies are respiratory and can include itching and watery eyes, nose, mouth and throat. Frequently, people with seasonal allergies can experience nausea. The nausea associated with seasonal allergies is usually not due to the allergen specifically but to the body’s response to the allergen.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Causes of Nausea in Seasonally Allergic People

The most common symptom of seasonal allergies is an increase in mucus production. This usually means runny noses and watery eyes for the seasonal allergy sufferer. Frequently, this excess mucus can run down your throat and into your stomach. The added mucus in the stomach may lead to nausea and even vomiting. In addition, the loss of fluids can lead to dehydration and a nauseous feeling. Finally, seasonal allergies can lead to sinus congestion. When this occurs, inflammation and congestion of the inner ear can impact balance and leave you feeling dizzy and/or nauseous.

Other Causes of Nausea Associated with Seasonal Allergies

Another manner in which seasonal allergies can cause nausea is from allergy medication. This can occur from the medication itself, which may be harsh on a sensitive stomach or from the added dehydration that these medications (which frequently contain decongestants) can cause.

The Wrap Up

Allergies are caused by an overcompensation in the immune system in response to an allergen. The nausea associated with seasonal allergies is usually not due to the allergen specifically but to the body’s response to the allergen. Finally, seasonal allergies can lead to sinus congestion.

When you’re rubbing itchy eyes and sneezing your way through an allergy flare-up, do you also feel muddled and fuzzy-headed sometimes? Many allergy sufferers describe an experience known as “brain fog” — a hazy, tired feeling that makes it difficult to concentrate.

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What is this phenomenon and why does it happen?

According to allergist and immunologist Mark Aronica, MD, that disconnected feeling is fatigue, and it’s caused by the inflammation that results when your body tries to counteract your allergy symptoms.

“People with allergies experience inflammation,” he says. “That inflammation leads to a congested nose, disrupted sleep patterns and not getting good rest.”

And, once the cycle starts, it’s sometimes self-perpetuating. You can find it difficult to go about your daily routines.

The more fatigued you are, the more difficulty you’ll have performing well in school or work. It can also negatively impact your quality of life if you’re too tired to do things you would normally do.

What’s really happening?

Your body produces what’s called cytokines whenever you’re exposed to an allergen, such as pollen, grass or mold, Dr. Aronica says. (Contrary to popular belief, the pollen in most flowers doesn’t cause allergies, but floral scents can still cause problems for people with sensitive noses.)

Cytokines are are proteins that are part of your body’s immune response to foreign substances. You also produce them when fighting infections caused by bacteria, viruses and colds.

The cytokine release causes inflammation in your nose, leading to congestion and narrowed airways.

If you have allergies, allergen exposure leads to ongoing inflammation. And nasal congestion and disturbed sleep combine to give you that fuzzy-headed feeling.

“Chronic inflammation from allergies can lead to that foggy feeling,” he says. “And, you’ll end up not functioning well.”

Fighting the fog

If your allergies are acting up and you feel the fog rolling in, there are a few things you can do to help stop the debilitating cycle of symptoms, inflammation and fatigue, Dr. Aronica says.

1. Limit your exposure. If you’re allergic to pollen or grasses, do your best to stay away from them. Stay indoors when they’re at their peak. Keep your windows closed if you have air conditioning. If you do spend time outside for longer periods, take a shower and change your clothes right away when you come in.

If you’re allergic to dust or mold, keep up with dusting and cleaning to keep them out of your home as much as possible.

2. Take your medicine. Medication can help curb your allergy symptoms. Oral antihistamines (medications that prevent you from responding to the histamines that cause inflammation) are readily available. They’re a temporary solution, but they are often effective.

Over-the-counter and prescription nasal sprays can also help combat your allergy symptoms, Dr. Aronica says.

3. Get allergy shots. This is the strongest form of treatment for allergy symptoms. Small injections of allergens under the skin can help your body build up an immunity over time. The result is less frequent and less severe allergic rhinitis, Dr. Aronica says.

He adds that some allergy sufferers also find relief with nasal lavage — a saline wash that cleans out the sinuses and nasal passages. Many people administer this type of wash with a neti pot to clear out lingering allergy symptoms.

Dr. Aronica notes that other conditions besides allergies may cause fatigue and brain fog. If you have a sore throat, cough, fever or body aches, you could have a cold or other illness and should take medications that will combat those symptoms.

Can Allergies Make You Sick? They May Be Behind Your Spring Cold & Here’s Why

I did everything possible to avoid it. I wiped down surfaces, washed my hands, made my neti pot my new BFF, used my allergy nasal spray religiously, but I came down with a nasty spring cold anyways. Same? Like me, you might not know that your spring allergies might have something to do your weird spring cold, and may in fact be making you sick. Dr. Bradley Chipps, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, told TIME magazine that, basically, when the seasons change, allergens and cold viruses team up, and Bradley noted that because your immune system is already busy battling your allergies, it’s not strong enough also combat cold viruses.

While I have a pretty strong immune system, and I rarely get sick, an unusually wet winter in Los Angeles means that everything is blooming and blowing. And, it’s blowing right up my nose. My roommate came down with a cold last week after a co-worker coughed on her computer, and by Wednesday night it had hit me too. My head is so plugged that my neti pot is useless, and I can barely hear. Aside from spring allergens making you more vulnerable to catching a cold, the spring thaw wakes up hungry dormant viruses that can’t wait to find an unwitting host. “Many studies show that rhinovirus and coronavirus are the two main agents of the common cold,” Dr. Benjamin Kaplan, an internal-medicine physician at Orlando Health in Florida, told Live Science. “Interestingly, they flourish in cooler weather, such as what we have in spring and fall.”


When irritants make their way into your nasal passages, it’s basically open season for cold viruses. Bradley told TIME that shifts in barometric pressure (which also contribute to migraines), temperature fluctuations, and wind can irritate your airways and nasal passages, which in turn can cause a sore throat and runny nose. While spring is a welcome respite from a brutal winter, this season’s wild weather is a perfect storm for colds and allergies to thrive. “Moisture makes mold grow, both indoors and out,” WebMD explained. “Dust mites also thrive in humid air.”

Because people are more likely to get sick when the seasons change, it’s easy to blame it on the weather, but that’s not actually the case. “It is important to note that it isn’t weather that makes us sick, but the germs,” Alexandra Sowa, an internist at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medicine, told the Washington Post. One way to combat allergens, so you’re less likely to catch a spring cold, is to keep your nasal passages lubricated. You can do this by using a saline nasal spray or sleeping with a humidifier at night. It’s also important to keep your immune system healthy and strong as you head into allergy season by wiping down surfaces, drinking plenty of water, washing your hands like a surgeon, and getting enough sleep.


What’s more, sometimes severe allergies can be confused with the common cold. This happened to me in January when the Santa Ana winds were mercilessly blowing ash from the summer and fall wildfires fires across Los Angeles. I went to urgent care convinced I had a sinus infection, but the final verdict turned out to be allergies from the poor air quality. The doctor sent me on my way with two nasal inhalers, and I felt better in a few days. If you’re not sure how to tell the difference between a cold and seasonal allergies, WebMD broke it down on their website.

“A cold is an infection caused by a virus. Allergies are your immune system’s reaction to a substance like pollen or pet dander. Because the two conditions cause similar symptoms, like sniffles and stuffiness, many people get them mixed up.” If you have itchy or watery eyes, clear mucus, a runny nose for more than a week, and your symptoms are consistent each day, you’re likely dealing with allergies, which can usually be relived with over-the-counter allergy medications. Unlike a cold, allergy symptoms generally stay the same whereas cold symptoms tend to intensify and peak before they ultimately subside.


When it’s windy, allergens like pollen from flowering trees are airborne, which makes you’re more likely to inhale them. If you want to reduce your chances of suffering from seasonal allergies, which can make you less likely to contract a spring cold, WebMD suggests preparing in advance. “If you have the same allergy at the same time every year — ragweed in the fall or tree pollen in the spring — get ahead of it. Ask your doctor if you can start taking allergy drugs about weeks before you usually start sneezing, coughing, or itching. That way, you can stop them before they start.” While it might be too late for you this year, as it is for me, you can plan ahead for summer and fall.

You can also check your symptoms on an artificial intelligence app like Ada, which can help you tell the difference between a cold and allergies. If it is indeed the dreaded spring cold, all you can do it wait it out. Drink plenty of fluids, get a lot of sleep, use OTC meds to alleviate symptoms, and take advantage of your unexpected downtime time by practicing some early spring hygge and lagom. Read a good book, marathon the latest murder mysteries on Netflix, sip some soup, and commiserate with other spring sickies on social media. You should start to feel as good as new in about a week. If you don’t, it might be time to head to the doctor to see what the real deal is. Feel better, friendlies.

How seasonal allergies work — and why they make you so miserable

In recent days, millions of Americans have begun to suffer from runny noses, itchy eyes, and the constant urge to sneeze.

Roughly 25 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, and there’s one clear culprit for them — plant sperm.

Seasonal allergies are the immune system’s response to the millions of pollen grains — plant sperm cells — floating through the air every spring. By incorrectly interpreting pollen as a health threat, your body triggers an inflammatory response, leading to annoying symptoms like itchy eyes or a runny nose. This is known as allergic rhinitis, or “hay fever.”

We still don’t have a cure for this sort of allergy, although there are medicines you can take to minimize your symptoms. The most effective strategy is simply to limit your exposure to the outdoors on the highest-pollen days.

Here’s a complete guide to dealing with your seasonal allergies, along with everything else you could possibly want to know about the weird way our bodies respond when we get in the way of plant sex.

1) Why do I get seasonal allergies?

During the spring and summer, most grasses, trees, and other plants take part in a 240-million-year-old tradition: shooting their sperm cells into the air so that they might get caught by the wind, land on another plant, and fertilize it, eventually producing a seed. Each sperm cell is packaged in a hard protective shell, forming a tiny grain of pollen.

Although these pollen grains are meant to land on other plants, some end up in a different place: inside your nose.

Whoa: pollen grains under a microscope. Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility/Wikimedia Commons

For most people, this isn’t a big deal. But for about 8 percent of adults, pollen from specific species — including trees like pine and birch, weeds such as ragweed, and various grasses — can trigger a rather unfortunate response from the immune system. Your body mistakenly interprets these pollen grains as foreign intruders and begins a series of steps intended to beat them back:

NIH/Wikimedia Commons

1) White blood cells (called B cells) inside your nasal passages come into contact with pollen grains and mistake them for dangerous interlopers.

2) These white blood cells then produce large numbers of antibodies — small, Y-shaped proteins that are specially designed to lock on to a specific threat (in this case, the pollen grains).

3) The antibodies bind to other kinds of white blood cells (called mast cells and basophils). So the next time grains of pollen enter your nose, the specially designed antibodies recognize and lock on to them, as well, eventually causing the mast cells and basophils to break open.

4) The reason these cells rupture is that they’re filled with histamine — a chemical your body uses to battle infections and other health threats through the inflammatory response, in which blood vessels expand and tissues become warm and swollen to speed the healing process. But the large amount of histamine released when the cells rupture in response to a false health threat causes an irritating range of symptoms in your nasal passages and nearby, including itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose, and frequent sneezing.

2) Why do some people suffer from these allergies while others don’t?

The short answer: we really don’t know.

Genetics are at least part of the reason — having a parent with a pollen allergy makes it more likely you’ll have one as well. And scientists have begun identifying some genes that seem to be linked to the condition.

But it’s clear environmental factors play a role in determining whether you’ll experience allergies, as well. In the United States, rates of all sorts of allergies have been increasing in recent years, especially in children. Many scientists blame this on something called the hygiene hypothesis — the idea that growing up in an overly clean, sterilized environment somehow messes with the natural development of the immune system, making it more prone to errors, like mistaking a harmless pollen grain for an invader.

3) Can I develop seasonal allergies over time? And can they go away?

Yes and yes.

Most people with seasonal allergies develop them some time after reaching adulthood, and these allergies can change unpredictably — in some cases, disappearing one spring after years of suffering. But scientists still really have no idea how or why this happens. Claims that you can eliminate seasonal allergies by changing your diet are unsubstantiated.

4) How can I figure out if I have seasonal allergies?

The easiest way is to consider your symptoms.

Seasonal allergies share some symptoms with the common cold (fatigue, sneezing, a runny nose, and nasal congestion), but there are a few key differences.

If you’re experiencing body aches and pains or a fever, and if your symptoms last for only a week or two, you probably have a cold. If you have longer-term symptoms (lasting four to six weeks) and they include itchy eyes, you probably have a seasonal allergy.

You can also go to an allergist and take a test. For the most common kind, a doctor will prick your skin with extracts made from many different kinds of allergens, including common pollens. If you develop inflammation around the site of one of the pricks, it indicates you’re allergic to it.

Generic antihistamines work just as well as name brands. Flickr/Outtacontext

5) What should I do to make my allergies less awful?

If you’re unsure whether you actually have allergies, it’s probably a good idea to see a doctor before taking any new medications.

If you know you suffer from seasonal allergies, the first thing to do is try an over-the-counter antihistamine. By limiting the activity of histamine in your body, it can reduce itchiness, watery eyes, and a runny nose, though it probably won’t make you feel absolutely perfect.

This interactive tool from Iodine can help you find a good medication for your symptoms. Although early antihistamines (like Benadryl) had the side effect of drowsiness, more recent ones (like Claritin and Allegra) do not. Consumer Reports recommends generic versions of Claritin (called loratadine) or Zyrtec (called cetirizine), because they’re the exact same drug as the name brand versions and are generally much cheaper.

If you’re still suffering despite help from antihistamines, try limiting your exposure to pollen. Pollen season varies by location, and different plants release their pollen at different times, but trees generally pollinate in the spring and grasses in the summer. Pollen counts forecast the amount of pollen in the air for your area on a given day (the number indicates the amount of individual grains in a cubic meter of air), so you can avoid spending time outside on particularly high-pollen days (they tend to be windy and dry). The Mayo Clinic has a bunch of other tips for minimizing exposure.

If your symptoms are really severe — and if you also have asthma, which can be aggravated by seasonal allergies — you might want to see an allergist and ask for allergy shots. These work by deliberately introducing an extract made from pollen into your body to make it less sensitive. The shots can be effective but are expensive, can cause side effects, and involve weekly or monthly shots for years at a time.


6) How is this related to food allergies and other sorts of allergies?

The mechanism (your overzealous immune system) is the same, but the symptoms can be quite different: someone allergic to peanuts, for instance, can experience anaphylactic shock, which involves rapid throat swelling and can even lead to death. Because they’re connected, in some people, an onset of seasonal allergies can make food allergies worse.

7) Is there anything else I should know about seasonal allergies?

Yes. Scientists have recently determined that because of climate change, pollen season is likely to become longer and feature even higher amounts of pollen than it does currently. Right now in the US, it generally starts in mid-April and peaks in early May; by 2020, it’ll begin in mid-March, peak in April, and continue even later into the summer, with higher amounts of pollen in the air at any given time.

Happy sneezing.

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