It’s the time of year when many clients contact me saying they’ve had a cold for weeks that they can’t shake. With a little investigation we often discover it’s not a virus after all – it’s hay fever (allergic rhinitis). “But how can I feel so bad when it is just an allergy?” a novice sufferer will often ask.
Until you’ve personally experienced hay fever, it’s difficult to understand how a little pollen can make you feel so rotten. It’s a lot more than a bit of sneezing and a runny nose. When your body encounters an allergen, it releases large amounts of histamine in an attempt to quell these foreign invaders. This over-active immune response tends to make you feel like you’ve been hit by a train, rather than tapped by a flower.
Three differences between a cold and hay fever
The severity of symptoms isn’t the key indicator of whether your runny nose and fatigue is caused by a cold or hay fever. Here are three ways to tell the difference between a virus and an allergy:
- A typical cold runs its course for 3 to 14 days, while hay fever can last from a day to a month, depending on the weather and your exposure to the allergen.
- Colds tend to come on quickly, then symptoms predictably taper off. Hay fever symptoms can suddenly come and go, and repeat in varying intensities.
- Muscle aches and fever often accompany a virus, but are uncommon with hay fever.
Do colds and hay fever require different treatments?
Yes, and no!
High, repeated doses of vitamin C can sometimes stop hay fever in its tracks, because vitamin C acts like a natural antihistamine. Similar doses for a cold may reduce your recovery time rather than stop the virus in it’s tracks.
For hay fever, choose a vitamin C powder with quercetin (a bioflavonoid) as it has a proven histamine-lowering action.
Elderflower tea, taken every hour or two, works well in combination with vitamin C for acute hay fever. It can also provide short-term relief for a runny nose caused by a cold.
If you’re fatigued, then rest regardless of the cause. Avoid driving if you feel tired.
When suffering from a virus we want to encourage the immune system to respond, so herbs like echinacea in acute doses can be useful. Not so with an allergy, as the immune system is already on high alert.
During an acute allergic reaction, such as hay fever or asthma, avoid echinacea. In rare cases, it can cause a severe or anaphylactic reaction.
For hay fever, fresh nettle leaf tea (or freeze-dried fresh nettle capsules) is a better herbal alternative.
Sunshine and fresh air can feel therapeutic while recovering from a cold but keep your doors and windows shut during a hay fever attack. As the pollen count is usually higher outside, stay inside as much as possible.
Preventing hay fever
While most clients present wanting acute treatment in the height of the hay fever season, it’s more effective to start on a preventative plan months before spring arrives. A Wellbeing Plan can help you reduce your allergy load and feel healthier year round.