Could your ‘winter cold’ be an allergy?
How to tell the difference.
Winter. Those beautiful blue sky days that start off cold and (very) fresh yet warm up enough to make being outside at midday very pleasant. The air is crisp and dry, the green grass of summer has been replaced by winter’s yellows and browns and if we walk outside, we do it to a soundtrack of crunching leaves…and often also to our sneezing and coughing. This is the time of year that your nose starts to run, your eyes get puffy and water and you find yourself sneezing often. Well it is winter and colds are galloping around so no doubt it’s caught you. Or has it? How do you know you have a cold and not an allergy?
Most people assume allergies or hay fever only happen in spring. Yet mould spores from rotting leaves or an increase in house dust mites thanks to the warmth of our winter fires and heaters can bring on allergies in autumn that last through to spring.
The symptoms of colds and allergies often overlap and very few of us would be able to say with certainty that we have never mistaken an allergy for a cold.
Colds are caused by viruses and are highly contagious. An infected person sneezes, coughs or shakes your hand and you are covered with cold viruses that try to get past your immune system into your body.
Allergies are not contagious and are caused by an overactive immune system. For some inexplicable reason your body mistakes harmless substances (dust, pollen, cat hair) as a virus and launches an attack. With both a cold or allergy your body releases chemicals such as histamine. This causes the runny nose, sneezing, watery and red eyes. These symptoms are not the effect of the virus or allergen on you, but your immune system’s reaction and method to expel the virus from your body.
So how can you tell if you have a cold or allergy?
The major difference is that colds don’t last longer than 2 weeks so if your symptoms last longer than that, then consult your healthcare practitioner to see if it’s an allergy or some other problem.
- • Pollen
- • Animal dander
- • Cockroaches
- • Dust mites
Dust mites are one of the most common causes of allergies, with their droppings triggering asthma, eczema and rhinitis in sensitive people. Dust mites peak in autumn and winter when we turn on our heaters, electric blankets and fires and the indoor humidity levels decrease and these little mites love a warm and dry environment.
Would you believe that fallen leaves are one of the key causes in allergies and sneezing? Moulds grow in raked and rotting leaves. Areas that have wet autumns and winter will have more moisture in the air, which increases the number of mould spores. As soon as a mould spore lands on the moist lining of the eye, nose or airways the allergen begins to leak out of the spore triggering symptoms like non-stop sneezing!