Can Allergies Make You Sick? They May Be Behind Your Spring Cold & Here’s Why
I did everything possible to avoid it. I wiped down surfaces, washed my hands, made my neti pot my new BFF, used my allergy nasal spray religiously, but I came down with a nasty spring cold anyways. Same? Like me, you might not know that your spring allergies might have something to do your weird spring cold, and may in fact be making you sick. Dr. Bradley Chipps, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, told TIME magazine that, basically, when the seasons change, allergens and cold viruses team up, and Bradley noted that because your immune system is already busy battling your allergies, it's not strong enough also combat cold viruses.
While I have a pretty strong immune system, and I rarely get sick, an unusually wet winter in Los Angeles means that everything is blooming and blowing. And, it's blowing right up my nose. My roommate came down with a cold last week after a co-worker coughed on her computer, and by Wednesday night it had hit me too. My head is so plugged that my neti pot is useless, and I can barely hear. Aside from spring allergens making you more vulnerable to catching a cold, the spring thaw wakes up hungry dormant viruses that can't wait to find an unwitting host. "Many studies show that rhinovirus and coronavirus are the two main agents of the common cold," Dr. Benjamin Kaplan, an internal-medicine physician at Orlando Health in Florida, told Live Science. "Interestingly, they flourish in cooler weather, such as what we have in spring and fall."
When irritants make their way into your nasal passages, it's basically open season for cold viruses. Bradley told TIME that shifts in barometric pressure (which also contribute to migraines), temperature fluctuations, and wind can irritate your airways and nasal passages, which in turn can cause a sore throat and runny nose. While spring is a welcome respite from a brutal winter, this season's wild weather is a perfect storm for colds and allergies to thrive. "Moisture makes mold grow, both indoors and out," WebMD explained. "Dust mites also thrive in humid air."
Because people are more likely to get sick when the seasons change, it's easy to blame it on the weather, but that's not actually the case. "It is important to note that it isn’t weather that makes us sick, but the germs," Alexandra Sowa, an internist at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medicine, told the Washington Post. One way to combat allergens, so you're less likely to catch a spring cold, is to keep your nasal passages lubricated. You can do this by using a saline nasal spray or sleeping with a humidifier at night. It's also important to keep your immune system healthy and strong as you head into allergy season by wiping down surfaces, drinking plenty of water, washing your hands like a surgeon, and getting enough sleep.
What's more, sometimes severe allergies can be confused with the common cold. This happened to me in January when the Santa Ana winds were mercilessly blowing ash from the summer and fall wildfires fires across Los Angeles. I went to urgent care convinced I had a sinus infection, but the final verdict turned out to be allergies from the poor air quality. The doctor sent me on my way with two nasal inhalers, and I felt better in a few days. If you're not sure how to tell the difference between a cold and seasonal allergies, WebMD broke it down on their website.
"A cold is an infection caused by a virus. Allergies are your immune system's reaction to a substance like pollen or pet dander. Because the two conditions cause similar symptoms, like sniffles and stuffiness, many people get them mixed up." If you have itchy or watery eyes, clear mucus, a runny nose for more than a week, and your symptoms are consistent each day, you're likely dealing with allergies, which can usually be relived with over-the-counter allergy medications. Unlike a cold, allergy symptoms generally stay the same whereas cold symptoms tend to intensify and peak before they ultimately subside.
When it's windy, allergens like pollen from flowering trees are airborne, which makes you're more likely to inhale them. If you want to reduce your chances of suffering from seasonal allergies, which can make you less likely to contract a spring cold, WebMD suggests preparing in advance. "If you have the same allergy at the same time every year — ragweed in the fall or tree pollen in the spring — get ahead of it. Ask your doctor if you can start taking allergy drugs about [two] weeks before you usually start sneezing, coughing, or itching. That way, you can stop them before they start." While it might be too late for you this year, as it is for me, you can plan ahead for summer and fall.
You can also check your symptoms on an artificial intelligence app like Ada, which can help you tell the difference between a cold and allergies. If it is indeed the dreaded spring cold, all you can do it wait it out. Drink plenty of fluids, get a lot of sleep, use OTC meds to alleviate symptoms, and take advantage of your unexpected downtime time by practicing some early spring hygge and lagom. Read a good book, marathon the latest murder mysteries on Netflix, sip some soup, and commiserate with other spring sickies on social media. You should start to feel as good as new in about a week. If you don't, it might be time to head to the doctor to see what the real deal is. Feel better, friendlies.