DocTalk: Is it allergies or a summer cold?

08/06/2013 6:48 AM

08/08/2014 10:18 AM

During the summer, having a runny nose, sore throat or cough combined with sneezing may lead you to believe you have allergies. But these symptoms are tell-tale signs of a classic summer cold. The two are equally annoying, so how do you tell the difference?

Nasal congestion and clear nasal discharge are the most common similarities between allergies and a summer cold. But there are marked differences – mainly itching for allergies and fever and achiness for a cold.

Here are ways to help you further differentiate between the two:

Allergy symptoms

In addition to congestion and sneezing, allergies can include:

• Nasal itching, or itching of the mouth, throat and the inner ears
• Difficulty breathing through the nose
• Burning or watery eyes
• Persistent cough; tickling sensation in the throat
• Wheezing; tightness in chest
• Appearance of “allergic shiners" – swelling and darkening under the eyes, or an "allergic salute" – a horizontal crease at the bridge of the nose caused by constant rubbing of an itchy, runny nose.
• Fluid behind the eardrums from blockage of the Eustachian tube.

Allergies can have outdoor causes such as pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, or can be caused by indoor allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches, mold spores or animal dander. Allergies are uncommon in children younger than 2 years of age. See a physician for diagnosing and treating allergies.

Summer-cold symptoms

• Change in mucus production from clear to cloudy, yellow or green in color
• Fever with or without body and muscle aches
• Beginning of a sore throat to accompany congestion and a runny nose
• Fatigue
• Headache, other body aches.

Getting over a summer cold

Summer colds are as inconvenient as they are annoying, particularly when they interfere with vacations, outdoor activities and other events. The duration of a cold varies depending on your body’s immune system, your diet, the fluids you drink and your activities.

Here are some tips to help you quickly conquer your cold and get back to fun in the sun:

• Wash your hands often (or use hand sanitizer when hand-washing is not an option). Germs are spread from a contagious person to a healthy person typically by hand, whether directly or indirectly.
• Drink plenty of fluids. You can’t flush a cold out of your system, but drinking water and other liquids, such as orange juice, will help prevent dehydration and maintain your body’s fluids.
• Rest. It’s easier said than done in the summertime, but in order for your body to recover from a virus, you must get plenty of rest.
• Spend some time outdoors (but limit strenuous activity). The sun’s ultraviolet rays can kill cold viruses, just as ultraviolet light can kill surface germs.
• Treat the symptoms. While there is no cure for the common cold, over-the-counter treatments such as cough suppressants, fever reducers and nasal decongestants can ease the symptoms.
• Take advantage of the fruits of the season. Eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and nutrients will help boost your body’s immune system.

Cold remedies

Remedies know to shorten the length of a common cold in children (items available at pharmacies and natural food stores):

• Buckwheat honey: 2.5 mL in 2- to 5-year-olds, 5 mL in 6- to 11-year-olds and 10 mL in 12- to 18-year-olds. Not for use in children under 2 years of age.
• Saline nasal irrigation: 3 to 9 mL per nostril in 6- to 10-year-olds for up to three weeks.
• Geranium extract: 10 to 30 drops in children 1 to 18 years for seven days.
• Vapor rub: 5 mL for 2- to 5-year-olds and 10 mL for 6- to 11-year-olds
•  Zinc sulfate: 5mL in 1- to 10-year-olds for 10 days.

Therapies that are not effective in children: Benadryl, echinacea, over-the-counter antihistamines, antitussives, decongestants and vitamin C.

Remedies for adults:

•  Kalmcold (Andrographis paniculata): 200 mg daily for five days
•  Echinacea purpurea: 4 mL twice daily for eight weeks or 20 drops daily for 10 days
• Geranium extract: 30 drops three times daily for 10 days
•  Zinc acetate or gluconate.

Emily VinZant is a family medicine physician at Via Christi Clinic at 990 S. George Washington Blvd.

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