Seasonal allergies: is your cough from allergies or a cold?
Whether your cough is caused by a cold or from allergies, to constantly be coughing and clearing your throat is pretty irritating and uncomfortable. Sometimes you develop a bad cough when you have a cold or flu but you can also get a cough from allergies, too. Maybe you have had a lingering cough for some time, with cold symptoms which never seems to clear up. It could be that you don’t really have a cold after all, and what you have instead are allergies.
There is a difference between a cold and allergies, but it is very easy to confuse one with the other. Paul Ehrlic has been a Medical Doctor and allergist for many years. When he had what he thought was a cold with a watery runny nose for a few days, one of his patients said to him, “So you also have allergies!” He had never had allergies before so he checked it out with another doctor who confirmed that the patient was right–he indeed had allergies! It turned out that he was allergic to the blooms of birch trees and so he eventually found out that what he thought to be a cold was actually an allergy!
A cold is usually caused by a virus, but allergies are caused by your immune system reacting to certain substances such as pollen or cut grass, medications and others. Both conditions though, cause very similar symptoms such as runny noses and stuffiness too. The key is to know which is which so you can get the right treatment; and naturally, get better faster.
If you have allergies
● The mucus in your nose is usually clear or watery constantly and it won’t become thick or yellow which are usually signs of a cold or the flu.
● Usually, your eyes become watery and itchy – something not very common with a cold.
● Your symptoms usually stay the same from day to day when you have an allergy. They don’t get worse or better unlike a cold caused by a virus or bacteria.
● You get the symptoms consistently on certain situations, like when it’s the spring or fall, or when you come into contact with cat hair, for instance.
It makes no difference whether you have a cough from an allergy or a cold, both can be pretty annoying – sometimes when you make a loud noise when you cough, and when you have a coughing spasm, people move away, looking at you as if you are starting a plague and spreading the germs around.
What causes you to cough?
Well, the purpose of coughing is to actually help us. That’s what Monica Lee, MD, a Massachusetts otolaryngologist, doctor for the eyes and ears says. She mentions that it is the body’s way of trying to get rid of something that it sees as a threat in the airways. These “threats” can actually be a whole bunch of different things. You could be coughing because you have food stuck in your throat. It could be pollen from a new season or air pollution. It could be from a post nasal drip at the back of your throat. All of these things irritate the sensory fibers in the airways and they stimulate a cough. What happens is your vocal cords close briefly so that pressure is generated in the lungs. Once enough pressure has built up, the vocal cords open and the air flows quickly through your voice box. That generates the coughing sound. That’s the miracle of how our bodies are made – it’s the natural response of the body to expel “threats”!
When it’s an allergy, you will usually have a dry cough, not a rattling cough that comes from the chest like when you have the flu. If you have an allergy or sensitivity to something, your eyes will react too, as well as your nose. Your eyes will become watery, red, and itchy and your nose will start to run. You can also experience wheezing and headaches from allergies so says the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Timing counts as well when it comes to allergies because if you are allergic to pollen, for instance, or maybe your friend has introduced you to her cutest pet kitten, you are no doubt going to notice symptoms almost immediately or at least within an hour or so of being exposed. These symptoms can last for a few hours after and even longer after, when you are not even exposed to allergen, or the cause of allergy, anymore.
Coughs which come from allergies are usually dependent on patterns as well. Doctors try and look at the bigger picture. For instance, you might get a cough every March for instance. That would be a good sign that you are actually suffering from allergies and not the common cold.
What is your best defense against a cough from allergies? Antihistamine medication such as Loratadine and Cetirizine – these are effective allergy medications available in the market, to name a few; or you could try other options which could include steroid nasal sprays or immunotherapy shots. All of these work to regulate your body’s response to allergens instead of only relieving the symptoms.
And a cough from a cold? How do I know if my cough is because I have a cold?
It is generally the case that allergy coughs are more often a dry kind of cough, whereas coughs from colds or flu tend to be more wet. Cold coughs are usually wet as it is more likely to be due to mucus that your body is trying to rid itself of. Coughs that are accompanied by a cold usually come with a stuffy nose and maybe even post nasal drip, which is the mucus running down the back of your throat. That can cause you to have a sore throat, cough and even chest discomfort. If you have a low-grade fever, it is a good sign that you probably have a cold or flu and not an allergy.
How do you fight a cold?
Colds don’t initiate as rapidly as allergies do. They tend to develop over the course of a few days. There are a few medications that, if you visit your doctor, he will recommend to get rid of that irritating cough, especially if you have the flu. Decongestants work well for dry cough to help congestion and make it easier for the mucus to be expelled. You can also get medicine such as dextromethorphan– a cough suppressant, which helps to ease the coughing itself. Just make sure that you take the product as directed..
In saying that, however, it should be noted that dry coughs don’t always indicate an allergy and a wet cough doesn’t always indicate the flu or a cold. Allergies can also plague your nose and cause that nasty post-nasal drip which can cause a wet, irritating cough. And mild colds might not even leave you all stuffed up to produce all that mucus.
Is a cough something to worry about?
Something to bear in mind is that a cough, no matter the cause, should not be something you live with regularly. A cough will usually run its course over a couple of weeks. If you have a cold or flu, it should last around three weeks or so, even though (perish the thought!) it can linger on for around 8 weeks – that’s according to the US National Library of Medicine. The length for an allergy-related cough will vary and this will depend on how you are treating it.
Don’t ignore a cough though – it could be more serious than you think
⮚ Say now two months pass by and you are still coughing and spluttering even though you have been dosing yourself with medication – then maybe it’s time to see your doctor. You might well be dealing with an allergy that you are not aware of. This might be where allergy tests come into play. You could also potentially be suffering from other health issues such as asthma. Have you got shortness of breath? Maybe you have reflux, you could be getting pneumonia or bronchitis.
⮚ When you feel your life is being disrupted by your coughing, you shouldn’t just ignore it, you need to get it checked out. It is best to have a doctor examine you and give you peace of mind about your condition, as well as sound advice and the proper medication to help speed up your recovery time.
⮚ Unfortunately, another reason for a cough that just lingers can be a sign of cancer–particularly lung cancer. That is why it is so important to get a lingering or chronic cough checked out. Because then your doctor, if he suspects anything, can order an X-ray and perhaps other tests to rule out more serious issues.
⮚ Sometimes the airways can become constricted, inflamed and blocked. The lungs could produce a whistling or wheezing sound as you breathe. This wheezing can be associated with a few causes which can be treated. But wheezing can also be a symptom of lung cancer which once again, is why you should not ignore a chronic cough and have it checked out. You should not assume that wheezing is caused by allergies or asthma. You need to have your doctor confirm the cause.
⮚ Hoarseness–when your voice sounds deeper or is raspier, is also time to get checked out by the doctor. Even though hoarseness might be caused by a simple cold, these types of symptoms can also point to something more serious when it just keeps on persisting for more than a couple of weeks. Hoarseness which is related to lung cancer can occur when a tumor that you might have, affects the nerve which controls the voice box.
What to do to get rid of the cough
Out there in nature, there are ways to treat a cough and get rid of it naturally. Just remember, though, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor herbs and supplements, so you use them with caution and read up before you decide to take any. But in saying that, there are many people who believe in natural remedies to treat coughs, whether it is from allergies or from the flu. It is best not to mix natural medications with conventional medications from your doctor because this can result in unwanted side effects. Let’s take a look at some natural remedies:
1. Honey tea
All you do is drizzle some honey into your tea with a slice of lemon. Honey is a superfood and is noted for relieving coughs. Drink this tea mixture once or twice a day. Don’t give kids under 1-year old honey unless your medical doctor or pediatrician says it is ok.
Ginger, a well-known spice, might be able to ease a dry cough, even an asthmatic cough because it has anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help to relieve nausea and pain. Studies show that the anti-inflammatory compounds in ginger help to relax membranes in the airways, which reduces coughing. Just boil water with fresh ginger slices to a cup of water (around 20-40 grams). Steep for a few minutes before you drink it. You can even add honey or lemon to make it even more potent.
Drinking fluids goes without saying because staying hydrated is imperative for those who have coughs and colds. Research shows that when you drink liquids at room temperature, you can alleviate cough, runny nose, and sneezing. Those who have severe flu or colds might benefit from warming up their fluids because the same studies show that hot beverages alleviate even more symptoms like sore throat, fatigue and chills.
Steam does wonders for a wet cough. That’s why sometimes it is recommended to have a humidifier in your room when you have flu or suffer from bad coughs. This even comes recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Allow a room to fill with steam and stay there for a few minutes, inhaling. Drink a glass of water afterwards to keep yourself hydrated and cooled down. Some people will make a steam bowl of hot water. They add herbs, essential oils such as eucalyptus or rosemary which are known to be good decongestants. They place a towel over the head, trapping in the steam, and inhale its vapors for about 5 minutes to decongest a stuffy respiratory system. If the steam feels hot on the skin, discontinue until the skin cools down.
5. Salt-water gargle
This is a very simple remedy but highly effective. Gargling with salt water is known to reduce the phlegm and mucus at the back of your throat and that in turn, lessens the need to cough. Add half a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water until it dissolves. Then allow this solution to cool slightly before gargling. Take a gulp and hold your head back allowing the gargle mixture to sit at the back of your throat for a few moments. Then spit it out. Do this gargling with salt water several times each day until the cough improves. Don’t let little kids do this as they might not be able to do it properly.
Some more natural solutions:
o Pineapple juice, with its component bromelain, helps to naturally treat coughs.
o Thyme is a common remedy for coughs, sore throats, digestive issues, and bronchitis.
o Slippery elm is excellent for treating coughs and treating digestive issues.
o Probiotics might not directly relieve a cough, but they certainly boost the immune system because they balance the bacteria in the gut.
Let’s see what famed Dr. Oz advises how to conquer a chronic cough and get rid of a post-nasal drip
Dr. Oz explains that the nose is just like a faucet. Allergies and viruses get in there, and the nose responds by dripping thick mucus, which can drip down at the back of the throat, making the throat tickle and making you want to cough. Dr. Oz recommends a thyme steamer for this:
2 Tablespoons thyme
1 Cup hot water
Pour a glass of hot water on top of the thyme.
Let it steep for about 10 minutes. Take deep inhalations of it, and once the thyme has steeped in hot water, strain and drink.
To get rid of a dry cough, Dr. Oz recommends people take a licorice tablet called DGL licorice. Take it a half-hour before a meal to help coat the stomach and help end the cough.
For a chronic cough, Dr. Oz recommends Buckwheat Honey. He says that if your cough is less than 2 weeks old, it’s probably a cold. If it lasts more than 2 weeks, it could be something like mild asthma or an allergy.
Come clean and cough it up!
Is it a cough from an allergy or from a cold? Colds, the flu and allergies can all affect the respiratory system, which can make it hard to breathe. Each of the above conditions has its own set of symptoms that set them apart but can be hard to identify immediately. The flu and colds are usually caused by different viruses. Generally, the symptoms associated with the flu are more severe but both colds and the flu can lead to stuffy noses, congestion, sore throat and even nausea. The flu can also cause high fever which can last for as long as 3-4 days, accompanied by a headache, fatigue, and general aches and pains all over the body. You will notice, severe symptoms are less common when you have a cold.
Allergies are different from colds; they aren’t caused by a virus. Allergies are the body’s immune system reacting to an allergen it considers a threat. If you have allergies and you breathe in stuff like pet dander or pollen, your body can start reacting negatively and your airways can overreact to these harmless substances causing symptoms. The respiratory tissues could swell, your nose get all stuffed up and start running. Again, with an allergy, though, the symptoms will usually last just as long as you are around the allergen. So if its pollen in the area where you live, then it will last for as long as you are in the area of the pollen, till that season is over.
But with colds and flu, they can last beyond 2 weeks. Usually, most people with colds and flu will recover on their own, sometimes even without medical care. But if your symptoms go on beyond 10 days or so, then it might be time to visit the doctor. Colds and flu require plenty of rest, fluids and taking pain relievers like ibuprofen to relieve aches and pains. Allergies in contrast can be treated with decongestants or antihistamines. Just be careful to avoid “drug overlapping” when taking medicines which list more than 2 active ingredients in them, because then you might be getting too much of something. That means reading the labels carefully. You don’t want to over medicate.
Get better fast, because having a cough because of allergies is “snot” funny!
*Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.