Do You Have A Winter Cold or Allergies?
This winter I have had my share of traveling, for many others traveling they will experience sickness during or after a trip, I blame some of it to being trapped in a plane with air that is shared with a couple hundred other individuals. Last week my friend Sandy had a real good question. She asked me if allergies are common this time of year. I realize that colds are common this time of year. But so are allergies. So how do you tell the difference between the two?
That is a great question, and after I answered it for her I realized that many of you may wonder about it as well. Here is the easy answer. Colds are caused by viruses. At last count, more than 200 strains of viruses, mostly in the rhinovirus family, were capable of causing the common cold. So it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll ever get to enjoy a “cure” for the common cold. Or, to be more precise, a vaccine that can prevent colds is probably unfeasible. Cold viruses are passed primarily by hand. After you touch a surface laden with virus particles, for instance, and then rub your eyes or nose, you can infect yourself. Diligent hand washing is still one of the best defenses against the common cold.
A cold usually starts with an itchy, scratchy feeling in the nasal cavities, or upper respiratory tract. Eventually, it develops into an infection that can cause congested or runny sinuses, headache and general feelings of low energy. Sometimes, you might feel achy, too, or run a low-grade fever.
Allergies, on the other hand, occur when the immune system overreacts to ordinary, essentially harmless, proteins in the environment. Although these proteins are incapable of causing disease, the immune system overreacts anyway, cranking out proteins called histamines. These, in turn, trigger all kinds of unpleasant symptoms, ranging from nasal congestion and stuffiness to red eyes, sneezing, and sniffling. Some allergy sufferers may even develop skin eruptions, such as hives. Unlike colds, though, allergies never cause fever, or aches and pains.
Allergies can be triggered by offending particles in the air (inhalant allergies) or specific foods (such as peanuts, or eggs). Although it’s possible to have a sensitivity to certain scents that you may find offensive, these are not actually allergies.
As I’ve mentioned, vigilant hand-washing is your best defense against the common cold. Dry air from home heating systems can dry out nasal passages, possibly making you more vulnerable to viral assaults. In any event, indoor air that’s been humidified to within a range of 40-50% relative humidity feels more comfortable, and can even leave you feeling a little warmer.
Berries and grapes are rich in natural immunity-boosting chemicals, so try to eat plenty of these foods year round, but especially during cold season. It may also help to boost your levels of vitamin D.