Sniffle Detective: 5 Ways To Tell Colds From Allergies
ByCari Nierenberg04 June 2014
Seasonal allergies and colds share some common symptoms, so it may be hard to tell the two apart.
Both conditions typically involve sneezing, a runny nose and congestion. There are some differences, though. Additionally, colds usually include coughing and a sore throat, but these symptoms can also occur in people with hay fever who have post-nasal drip. Itchy eyes are common for seasonal allergies, but rare for colds.
“Colds and seasonal allergies seem very similar in many ways,” said Dr. Rima Rachid, director of allergen immunotherapy at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s the duration and chronicity of symptoms that might help tell the difference,” she explained.
It’s not unusual for parents and even doctors to confuse cold and seasonal allergy symptoms, Rachid told Live Science.
Young children frequently get colds, and their parents may not always think of seasonal allergies as the reason for kids’ constantly drippy noses. Seasonal allergies may first show up in a child at around ages 4 to 6, but they can also begin at any age after that, Rachid said.
And genetics play a role: People with one parent who has any type of allergy have a 1 in 3 chance of developing an allergy, Rachid said. When both parents have allergies, their children have a 7 in 10 chance of developing allergies, too.
Here are five signs to look for to determine whether symptoms are due to seasonal allergies or a cold.
Is It A Cold Or An Allergy Should You Call Your Primary Care Provider
Your child has a runny nose and a headache. You are worried it might be more than just a cold, but youre not sure. How do you tell the difference between a cold, allergies and a chest infection? Should you call your primary care provider?
Juhee Lee, MD, an attending physician with the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia , offers guidance to parents on:
- Recognizing the symptoms of different conditions that cause nasal congestion
- When to call your primary care provider
- What specialists can help
Bacterial And Viral Infections
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Natural Remedies To Treat Yellow Phlegm
Yellow phlegm tends to be thick and sticky, so when you are congested with it, you will do anything to try and get rid of it. At the very least, you will want to thin it so your body can start trying to get rid of the gunky mucus. Luckily, there are a number of natural remedies to help you dispose of yellow phlegm.
What Does White Snot Mean
If youre feeling congested or stuffy, you may notice your snot is white. You may also experience swelling or inflammation in your nose and a slow flow of nasal mucus. Being stuffy makes your snot lose its water content. It becomes thick and even cloudy, both signs that you may have a cold or infection brewing.
The common cold can make you feel generally unwell. Your symptoms will usually develop between one and three days after being exposed to the virus. Children are particularly prone to colds. Adults, on the other hand, may experience between two and three colds each year.
Other symptoms include:
- low-grade fever, or a fever above 98.6°F but lower than 100.4°F
- mild body aches
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Why So Thick Why So Green
When the white blood cells in the mucosa encounter an irritant or infectious organism, they respond by producing enzymes to repel the invaders. These enzymes contain iron, and thats what gives the nasal discharge the green color. And if the mucus sits around , it becomes more concentrated and so may appear darker yellow or green. This is the natural order of things, whether the offending agent is a virus or a bacterium.
When To Visit Your Doctor About Phlegm
If you are not feeling unwell, and the phlegm is clear, yellow or green then it is safe to wait to see if this clears by itself before seeking medical advice. However, if you see bloodstained sputum, or any shade of red, black or brown phlegm then contact your health professional. If coughing phlegm up is associated with or weight loss, seek urgent medical advice.
In general, see your doctor if you are not improving, having thick, dark or bloodstained phlegm, have a persistently raised temperature over 38 degrees C, have breathing problems or feel generally unwell.
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What Does White Phlegm Mean
You may experience white phlegm with several health conditions.
White phlegm is commonly caused by:
Viral bronchitis:This condition may start off with white phlegm. If it progresses into a bacterial infection, it may lead to yellow and green phlegm.
COPD: This condition causes your airways to narrow and your lungs to produce excess mucus. The combination makes it hard for your body to get oxygen. With this condition, you may experience white sputum.
Congestive heart failure: This occurs when your heart isnt effectively pumping blood to the rest of your body. Fluids build up in different areas leading to edema. Fluid collects in the lungs and may lead to an increase in white sputum. You may also experience shortness of breath.
You should seek immediate medical attention if youre having difficulty breathing.
So How Can You Tell If Your Cough Is Due To Allergies
First, evaluate the typeof cough you have. Allergies can cause a dry cough or wet cough , Dr. Bassett says, but post-nasal drip typically leads to a dry cough. The AAAI also points to a chronicdry coughmeaning it has lasted for more than three weeksas a sign of allergies.
You can also determine the difference by looking at the bigger picture and seeing what other symptoms are present, Dr. Bassett says. Seasonal allergies often present with an itchy nose, throat, and eyes, which is pretty uncommon with respiratory illnesses.
- How did your coughing start? Colds tend to come on slowly, while allergies kick in as soon as youve been exposed to an allergen.
- Are you itchy? Itchingespecially in your nose, eyes, or throatis a classic sign of allergies.
- Do you have a fever or body aches? Respiratory illnesses can cause both, but allergies dont.
- How long have your symptoms lasted? If your symptoms stick around for weeks or even months, allergies are probably to blame.
Weakened Immune System While Pregnant
During pregnancy the immune system is very much lowered, so dont be much surprised if you catch various coughs.
See you doctor if you have:
- A very persistent cough or youre bringing up a fluid especially when you cough
- You might also feel very much sick
- You are also experiencing a temperature that keeps rising even after taking paracetamol
- You are experiencing a high temperature, coughing up the green mucus in nose, and generally feel much unwell.
All these symptoms might be an indication that a person has a chest infection. The doctor is able to prescribe various antibiotics. If the chest infection is left much untreated, it may affect the unborn baby.
How Mucus Does Its Job
The airways of the lung constantly make mucus. The cells that line the airways have small hairs called cilia.
The cilia rhythmically beat back and forth, sweeping mucus up out of the airways and into the mouth. The mucus takes with it any foreign particles, like dirt, dust, or bacteria. This keeps the airways clean and free from infection.
So What Can You Do To Help Make Kids Feel Better As I Always Say: Water Water Water
Increase fluids that kids drink. Really push water. And unless a child is allergic to milk, it is an old wives tale that milk will make the mucus worse. If thats what they want, they can have milk with a cold. What really needs to happen is to get the mucus out. Using saline along with a strong blowing of the nose is important. Other treatment tactics may include: warm steam inhalation or a humidifier to help clear mucus. Additionally, over-the-counter cold and cough medications can help to clear out congestion. Infants and younger children may struggle to blow forcefully enough to get the mucus out. I recommend nasal aspirators that seal outside the nose and have a continuous flow of air. Check out How to use the Nosefrida. A similar nasal cleaner is available from Nasopure.
What Are The Types Of Rhinitis
There are several types of rhinitis:
- Allergic rhinitis is caused by allergies to substances called allergens.
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis is sometimes called hay fever. But, people with seasonal allergic rhinitis do not have to have a fever and do not have to be exposed to hay to develop this condition. It is an allergic reaction to pollen from trees, grasses and weeds. This type of rhinitis occurs mainly in the spring and fall, when pollen from trees, grasses and weeds are in the air.
- Perennial allergic rhinitis is caused by allergens that are present all year long. The primary causes of this type of rhinitis are allergies to dust mites, mold, animal dander and cockroach debris.
- Non-allergic rhinitis is not caused by allergens. Smoke, chemicals or other irritating environmental conditions may provoke non-allergic rhinitis. Hormonal changes, physical defects of the nose and the overuse of nose sprays may also cause it. Sometimes medications cause it. Often, the cause of this type of rhinitis is not well understood. But it is common in patients with non-allergic asthma. The symptoms are similar to allergy symptoms.
- Infectious rhinitis is possibly the most common type of rhinitis. It is also known as the common cold or upper respiratory infection . Colds occur when a cold virus settles into the mucous membranes of the nose and sinus cavities and causes an infection.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Sinusitis
The signs and symptoms of sinusitis vary depending on the severity of the inflammation and which sinuses are involved. Symptoms and signs of sinusitis are:
- Thick, green or yellow coloured mucus from the nose or down the back of the throat.
- Loss of sense of smell or taste.
- Bad breath and/or bad taste in the mouth.
- Sore throat and/or cough.
It is important to consult your doctor if these signs or symptoms develop.
What Are The Treatments For Allergic Rhinitis
The first and best option is to avoid contact with substances that trigger your nasal allergies . When prevention is not enough, consider using over-the-counter or prescription medicines:
- Antihistamines are taken by mouth or as a nasal spray. They can relieve sneezing and itching in the nose and eyes. They also reduce a runny nose and, to a lesser extent, nasal stuffiness.
- are taken by mouth or as a nasal spray or drops. They help shrink the lining of the nasal passages which relieves nasal stuffiness. These nose drops and sprays should be taken short-term.
- Nasal corticosteroids are used in nasal spray form. They reduce inflammation in the nose and block allergic reactions. They are the most effective medicine type for allergic rhinitis because they can reduce all symptoms, including nasal congestion. Nasal corticosteroids have few side effects.
- Leukotriene receptor antagonists block the action of important chemical messengers other than histamine that are involved in allergic reactions.
- Cromolyn sodium is a nasal spray that blocks the release of chemicals that cause allergy symptoms, including histamine and leukotrienes. This medicine has few side effects, but you must take it four times a day.
Nasal allergy symptoms may disappear completely when the allergen is removed or after the allergy is treated. Talk to your pharmacist and health care provider about what is best for you.
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More Facts About Your Nasal Mucus
Q: How much nasal mucus is normal?A: You produce and swallow about 1.5 quarts of nasal mucus every single day.
Q: Why does a single drop of snot sometimes come out of my nose?A: Your nostrils usually get runny on a cold day. When this happens you might notice that one drop sometimes hangs from the tip of your nose. That drop is mostly water that has condensed out of the cold air passing over warm nasal tissues. So, its actually not snot!
Q: What is Wegeners granulomatosis?A: Its a rare disease, whose symptoms include nosebleeds and a constantly runny nose with pus-filled discharge.
Why Does My Mucus Change Color
If you’ve ever stopped to look at the contents of the tissue after you’ve blown your nose, you may have noticed that your mucus isn’t always perfectly clear. It may be yellow, green, or have a reddish or brownish tinge to it. What do those colors mean?
You might have heard that yellow or green mucus is a clear sign that you have an infection, but despite that common misperception, the yellow or green hue isn’t due to bacteria.
When you have a cold, your immune system sends white blood cells called neutrophils rushing to the area. These cells contain a greenish-colored enzyme, and in large numbers they can turn the mucus the same color.
But “you can have perfectly clear mucus and have a terrible ear and sinus infection,” Kao says. If you do have an infection, you’ll likely also have other symptoms, such as congestion, fever, and pressure in your face, overlying the sinuses, Johns says.
Multi-hued mucus also relates to concentration of the mucus. Thick, gooey mucus is often greenish, Kao says.
Mucus can also contain tinges of reddish or brownish blood, especially if your nose gets dried out or irritated from too much rubbing, blowing, or picking. Most of the blood comes from the area right inside the nostril, which is where most of the blood vessels in the nose are located. A small amount of blood in your mucus isn’t anything to worry about, but if you’re seeing large volumes of it, call your doctor.
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Possible Causes Of Coughing Up Yellow Mucus
1. Cold or Flu
A common symptom of a cold or flu is coughing up clear or pale yellow colored mucus. Cold and flu are very common causes of a phlegmy cough if there are no other significant symptoms.
Bronchitis is an infection which causes irritation and inflammation in the main airways of the lungs . Bronchitis can be caused by both bacterial and viral infections. One of the symptoms is coughing up yellow mucus. Other symptoms include a sore throat and fever. A natural remedy that can help relieve bronchitis symptoms is the inhalation of warm and steamy air that has been infused with drops of eucalyptus oil.
Pneumonia is an infection that causes inflammation in the air sacs of the lungs. The infection can affect one or both lungs and can cause the air sacs to fill with pus or fluid, which leads to a cough with pus or phlegm. Pneumonia can also be accompanied with difficulty breathing, a fever and/or chills.
4. Sinus Infection
Sinuses, which are normally filled with air, can become blocked with stagnant mucus and filled with fluid. This may create a breeding ground for bacteria and cause a sinus infection which leads to colored phlegm. To help ease the symptoms of sinus infection, drink plenty of water and try nasal irrigation.
7. Lung Cancer
What Does Black Phlegm Mean
Black sputum is also called melanoptysis. Seeing black phlegm may mean you have inhaled a high amount of something black, like coal dust. It may also mean you have a fungal infection that needs medical attention.
Black phlegm is commonly caused by:
Smoking: Smoking cigarettes, crack , or other drugs may lead to black sputum.
Pneumoconiosis: One type in particular, black lung disease, may cause black sputum. It mostly affects coal workers or anyone else who has frequent exposure to coal dust. Coughing up black sputum may also be accompanied by shortness of breath.
Fungal infection: A black yeast called Exophiala dermatitidis causes this infection. This is an uncommon condition that can cause black phlegm. It more often affects people who have cystic fibrosis.
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Back Up: Why Do We Cough Anyway
Coughing is a natural response to irritation in your throat or airways. To put it simply, receptors in the throat, trachea, and lungs respond and lead to activation of the cough center in the brain, explains Clifford Bassett, M.D., founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.
Coughing is an essential defense mechanism, he says, and its your bodys way of pushing any unwanted stuff out, including pollen, mucus, and pieces of food, to make more room for air to get through.
Sinusitis Can Be Acute Or Chronic
There are two types of sinusitis:
- Acute sinusitis can last for up to three weeks, and is caused by bacterial infection in most cases. This usually occurs as a secondary complication of a viral respiratory infection such as the common cold, or as a result of untreated allergies.
- Chronic sinusitis can last more than three weeks. This may be caused by bacterial infection, or more often, it is a chronic inflammatory disorder similar to bronchial asthma. Chronic sinusitis can last for months or years if not treated. Allergies, structural problems or immune system problems may lead to chronic sinusitis.
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