Is it a Cold or Allergies? Get the Latest from Kaiser Permanente Physician and Specialist Dr. Peg Strub

South San Francisco, CA   June 15, 2016  Submitted by Joe Fragola, Kaiser Permanente kaiser logo rematched

By Dr. Peg Strub, Chief Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco

Are you sneezing, with a runny nose, itchy eyes and generally don’t feel well?  Is it a cold or is it an allergy? Nasal allergies can cause cold-like symptoms that occur when your immune system reacts to substances in the air such as dust or pollen.

More than 40 million people in the United States suffer from allergies. There are many things you can do to avoid or treat your allergies. But it’s important to first know the difference between allergies and a cold. Colds usually last about five to seven days. Nasal allergies last as long as you are exposed to “the allergen” (the trigger for your symptoms).Colds are often associated with a fever. Nasal allergies are not. Colds occur one to three days after exposure to a virus. Nasal allergy symptoms occur almost immediately after exposure to an allergen.

A family history of allergies increases your risk for developing this condition. There are many common causes of nasal allergies.  These include: dust mites or cockroaches, pet dander, tree, grass or weed pollen, and spores from fungi and molds that may be more widespread during warm weather.

You cannot avoid getting allergies, but you can limit contact with the things that cause your symptoms. Here are some tips to limit your exposure to certain kinds of allergens.

Dust and dust mites

  • Use allergy-proof covers on mattresses, box springs, and pillows
  • Wash sheets and blankets each week in hot water. Reduce indoor humidity
  • Vacuum carpets and rugs with a vacuum cleaner containing a “High Efficiency Particulate Air”(HEPA) filter
  • Remove carpeting in the bedroom if possible because carpet collects dust
  • Change heating and air conditioning filters every two to three months.

Pet dander

  • Bathe pets weekly.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom.
  • Consider running a HEPA air filter in the bedroom.
  • Keep your pets outdoors as much as possible.
  • Remember, there are no pets that are truly hypo-allergenic.

Indoor mold

  • Clean bathroom and kitchen surfaces and windowsills often with a mild bleach solution. (1 part bleach to 10 parts water).
  • Use a dehumidifier and fix water drips and leaks.

Outdoor Allergens

  • Close doors and windows during the pollen season. Use air conditioning in your house and car to keep cool.
  • Avoid hanging laundry outside. Pollen sticks to clothing.
  • Use a HEPA or allergy-grade filter in your ventilation system.
  • Avoid going outdoors in the late morning or afternoon when pollen count is usually higher, depending on the season and location.
  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days.
  • Avoid mowing grass or doing yard work particularly during peak pollen times. If you must work outdoors, wear a mask.

Your doctor may recommend treatment if your allergies are affecting your quality of life. Combining different types of medications is often the most effective approach. For example, many people use certain nasal sprays (inhaled nasal corticosteroids) and take an oral antihistamine. Both types of medicines are now available without a doctor’s prescription.

You may need further allergy tests – a skin prick or blood test – if you have severe symptoms, and treatment and preventive measures are not helping. If this is the case, contact your Kaiser Permanente physician to learn more.

For more information go to and search allergies.

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