Doctors explain difference between allergy, cold symptoms

March 22, 2013 3:23:58 PM PDT
The pollen is prolific, and Houstonians with allergies are miserable. But there is something else that is going around: cold viruses.

Many of the symptoms are the same so how can you tell the difference?

Toni Williams found it's tough working outside at the zoo when you have allergies.

"I'm always stuffy, it never fails. And with it being humid, it makes it worse," Williams said.

And this week, the pollens got prolific.

"This time of year, every year, when the pollen starts falling and coating the cars, it's really bad for me," Catherine Bishop said.

Charlotte Reburn takes antihistamines every day.

"I can't really breathe, it's like my throat is dry. It's really bad," she said.

And the pollen season is just beginning. Yes, it got bad this week but the experts say it's gonna get worse in April.

Experts blame the drought for the excess pollen this year. They say try an antihistamine before symptoms get really bad. And you may have to try several.

"Each person is different and one may be effective and others are not. For some people, Claritin is effective; for other people, it is just a sugar pill," said Dr. Dat Tran, a UTHealth allergist with Memorial Hermann Hospital.

To counter the big side effect of drowsiness, Dr. Tran suggests taking a 24-hour antihistamine at night. The drowsy side effect is often gone by morning.

But beware. There are also cold viruses going around Houston that cause the same symptoms.

So how can you tell the difference?

"When you take the typical allergy medicine, you notice it's not helping you," Dr. Tran said.

Colds last five to seven days, and allergies can last for weeks. And if it comes back at the same time every year, it's probably allergies.

"My second pregnancy, it got worse, so ever since then it's been pretty bad," allergy sufferer Angela Mosely said.

Doctors also say you can clean out mucus with a saline wash. He suggests using lukewarm, filtered water and spraying it gently into one nostril, which can wash pollens out through the other nostril. It's an inexpensive, over-the-counter treatment.

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