Cold or allergies? Dr. Raj Bhardwaj explains

That cold you've had for the past few weeks could actually be allergies, according to the Calgary Eyeopener's medical contributor.

Downside to Calgary's gorgeous spring weather is an early allergy season

If you're especially sensitive to pollen, Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says you should stay inside on dry, windy days. (iStock)

That cold you've had for the past few weeks could actually be allergies, says Dr. Raj Bhardwaj. 

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says the spring allergy season really gets going when the snow melts because it uncovers mould that's been growing all winter. (@RajBhardwajMD/Twitter)

The Calgary Eyeopener's medical contributor says it can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and allergies, but there are a few telling signs.

You have allergies if...

  • Your symptoms last longer than a week.
  • Your symptoms get worse when you're outdoors, especially on dry, windy days.
  • You regularly get what you think is a long cold in the spring.
  • You have an itchy nose and eyes (this could also be caused by a cold, but is less likely).

You have a cold if...

  • You're achy all over and feeling pretty run down.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your symptoms get better in seven to 10 days.

Great, so I've got allergies. Now what do I do?

Bhardwaj says a good place to start is to flush the pollen out of your nose with a nasal rinse. He says you can buy a Neti pot or a squeeze bottle at the drug store and make your own saline solution at home.

"One part baking soda, two parts salt, put into a big container and just leave that in your bathroom. Then you take a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of the fancy mix you made and do it at the end of your shower," said Bhardwaj.

He recommends using pickling or canning salt, but not table salt because it has iodine in it and can irritate your nose. Bhardwaj says it's not necessary to boil the water you use in your nasal rinse.

What about antihistamines?

Bhardwaj says they do work and that there are basically two flavours:

  1. Quick onset, short acting that makes you drowsy, like Benadryl or the generic diphenhydramine brand.

  2. Longer-acting, non-drowsy brands like Claritin, Reactine and Allegra. 

If your symptoms are severe and antihistamines aren't helping, Bhradwaj says you should talk to family doctor about prescription antihistamine eye drops and nasal sprays, but neither one are cheap.

Avoid 'triggers'

One of the best ways to alleviate your allergies is to know what triggers them, and that's often the great outdoors says Bhardwaj.

"Dry windy days are not your friend. But after a rain, if you have allergies, go out and enjoy the weather. The pollen is out of the air for the most part," he said.

Cover up with gloves and a jacket when you do any yard work, and take a shower as soon as you're done to get the pollen off your skin and hair.

And if none of those options work, ask your doctor for a referral to see an allergist.

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Spring cold vs. spring allergies


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