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Winter Sniffles: Allergies or the Common Cold?

The cold days of winter bring most of us indoors for the year – and then the sniffles start up. Symptoms like sneezing, congestion, and sore throat are common during the winter months. These unpleasant symptoms can be evidence of a winter cold, but they can also mean indoor allergies. What are the causes of these winter ailments, and how can they be identified and prevented?

Symptoms of colds include congestion, stuffy nose, swelling of sinuses, sneezing, scratchy sore throat, headaches, aches and pains, fever, and a cough. Allergy symptoms include stuffed or runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, sore throat, watery and itchy eyes, and sometimes headaches. The main difference between cold and allergy symptoms is that colds usually come with body aches and pains and possibly a low-grade fever, while allergies do not. In addition, colds usually last 7-10 days, while allergies will persist as long as the exposure to the offending allergen continues. If you have cold-like symptoms that persist for more than two weeks, it’s a good guess that you’re dealing with an allergy, not a cold.

To treat and prevent indoor allergies:

  • Visit an allergy doctor who can help you identify the offending indoor allergens
  • Maintain low indoor humidity to kill dust mites and mold
  • Vacuum using a HEPA filtered vacuum and run a HEPA air purifier to remove airborne allergens
  • Encase mattress, pillows, and bedding in allergen-barrier encasings to protect from dust mite allergies
  • Dust and clean frequently

To treat and prevent winter colds:

  • Wash your hands frequently and disinfect surfaces
  • Get plenty of exercise and rest
  • Eat nutritiously, with lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and excess stress
  • Relieve cold symptoms with nasal decongestants and cough suppressants

When treating a cold, remember that medicines may relieve symptoms, but they will not cure a cold. Only giving your body the proper care it needs – rest, proper nutrition, and plenty of fluids – will cure a cold. And with allergies, the best way to treat allergy symptoms is to remove the offending allergens from the environment.

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