Summer Allergies vs. Summer Cold

summer cold vs summer allergiesSo, you have a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, post-nasal drip, sore throat and coughing and it is the Summertime. Are you confused? You thought allergies occur in the Spring and Fall. You thought that “colds” occur in the Fall and Winter. Well, both “colds” and allergies can occur anytime and Summer is no exception.

“Colds” are caused by more than 200 different types of viruses. Some common viruses responsible for colds may include rhinovirus, other enteroviruses, coronavirus, influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and metapneumovirus. Rhinovirus, an enterovirus, is by far the most common cause of the common cold than any other virus. Typically, the symptoms of a “cold” are similar to those of allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever). In addition to the classic sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and post-nasal drip of allergic rhinitis, individuals with “colds” may also have other symptoms that may include sore throat, coughing, headaches, fatigue, achiness, fevers, chills, and/or discolored nasal discharge. It should be noted that discolored nasal discharge, fevers, and chills do not occur in most individuals with a common cold. In patients who have the influenza virus (i.e., flu), achiness, headaches, and fever are much more common than in individuals who only have the common cold.

In contrast to “colds” which are caused by viruses, Summer allergies are caused by common environmental allergens. The most common allergens found in the Summer include grass pollen, weed pollen, molds, dust mites, cockroaches, and pets (e.g., cat, dog, birds). Occasionally some tree pollen may cause some Summertime allergies in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area, but in general, trees pollinate in the Spring and are not much of a nuisance by the time Summer rolls around. Grass pollen tends to become a problem in May and it may continue to be irritating to allergy sufferers until August. Ragweed usually begins to pollinate in mid-August and is generally done pollinating by the first frost in October. Molds, dust mites, cockroaches, and pets are perennial allergens and can bother allergic individuals throughout the year, including the Summer. Molds are found both indoors and outdoors and tend to be worse in damp places in the house such as kitchens, bathrooms, and basements, although mold can be anywhere in the house. Dust mites, cockroaches, and pets are indoor allergens, although pets can transfer outdoor allergens (i.e., pollens) to the inside of a house by means of their coats, as pollen may stick to the pet’s hair or fur.

The diagnosis of whether the “allergy” symptoms are a result of allergies or of a “cold” depends on many factors. The length of time one has had symptoms, auxiliary symptoms (i.e., sore throat, coughing, headaches, fatigue, achiness, fevers, chills, and/or discolored nasal discharge), other effected individuals, and response to treatment all play a role in diagnosing the cause of the symptoms. Typically, a “cold” lasts about 1 week in duration unlike allergic rhinitis which generally last at least a season and sometimes is perennial in nature. If other individuals that live in the same household have similar symptoms, a “cold” should be thought of as the cause before allergies. Supplementary symptoms to the classic allergic rhinitis symptoms such as sore throat, coughing, headaches, fatigue, achiness, fevers, chills, and/or discolored nasal discharge should trigger the allergist to think of a “cold” or flu before allergies as a cause. Lastly, the response to the treatment that an individual tries may also help the allergist determine the cause of the symptoms, be it an allergy or a “cold.”

The treatment of the symptoms may be similar regardless of whether the symptoms are a result of allergies or a “cold.” Symptomatic treatment typically may include oral antihistamines, nasal antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, decongestants, and/or analgesics. Ongoing treatment may be needed in individuals with allergic rhinitis, whereas symptoms typically abate on their own within 1 week in individuals who have a “cold.”

Regardless of whether you have allergies or a “cold,” it should be emphasized that the classic symptoms of allergic rhinitis (i.e., sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip) may occur at any time of the year. Yes, even Summer. Whether or not the symptoms are due to allergies or are a result of a “cold” however is another story. Either way, seeking the advice of a board certified allergist is an important step in determining the ultimate cause as well as finding the solution to reduce and hopefully eliminate those unwanted and annoying symptoms.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have 3 convenient locations in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Our office locations are in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. Each office has on-site parking and the Washington, DC and McLean offices are Metro accessible. There is a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. Our allergists see both adult and pediatric patients. To make an appointment, please call our office location that is most convenient for you or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day. The allergy specialists at Black & Kletz Allergy strive to provide our patients with the highest quality allergy, asthma, and immunology care in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.