Late winter colds vs. spring allergies

April 18, 2011 2:28:46 PM PDT
There's a lot of sneezing in the newsroom lately, a sure sign of allergy season. While the sneezing, red eyes and runny nose are typical of allergies, a cough may make you think you have a late winter cold.

The blooming Madison Avenue trees signal the beginning of pollen season. No news for Lee Alexander whose allergies started as a kid.

"Runny nose, itchy eyes, but also to the extent that I had blisters on the eyes," Alexander said.

And as he got older, his throat seemed to clear as if there was phlegm in the back of the throat as a result of the allergies.Phlegm from post nasal drip can settle in the throat. That and air passages inflamed by pollen can produce a cough.

"The mucous itself is more acidic when its thicker, so when it sits on the airway, it irritates it and causes cough, also it deprives the throat of its normal lubrication and the throat gets dried out and the normal particles we breath in sit on the tissues and make us cough," said Dr. William Reisacher from NY Presbyterian Weill Cornell.

How to tell it from a cold? Colds last a week or so, allergies the whole season. Colds may have a low grade fever not seen with allergies. Colds produce fatigue, while allergies usually don't.

For starters, allergy sufferers can loosen up mucous by drinking plenty of water, or try an allergy medication.

For a cough, there is newer over the counter antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra. If you try over the counter antihistamines for a cough, be sure to read the labels carefully. They're not recommended for men with urinary problems or for people with glaucoma.

Patients rarely have a cough as the only symptom of allergies, it usually comes along with runny nose and sneezing.

If a cough goes on for too long after treatment for allergies or a cold, it's important to check with a doctor to make sure there's nothing more serious causing the cough.