It’s that time of year again—the time when kids go back to school and show us how well they share (by doing so with their germs). Combine that with teachers who persist in sending your sneezing child home from school, insisting that it’s a cold when you know it’s allergies, and you’re set up for months of frustration. CBS New York has some tips for surviving the upcoming cold and allergy season.
Is it allergies or a cold?
An allergy is your immune system reacting to some substance in the environment. A cold is an infection, usually caused by a virus. But they do share some symptoms such as a runny nose or nasal congestion, so how can you be sure what you’ve got? I spoke to Dr. Muataz Jaber, a pediatric allergist at Flushing Hospital in Queens and President of Long Island Allergy and Asthma Society.
“Pretty simple to distinguish,” says Dr. Jaber, “A cold will cause fever, body aches or weakness, and chills, but it won’t give you an itchy nose. That’s an allergy. Oh, and if you always get a ‘cold’ at the exact same time of year, that’s probably an allergy, too.”
Some of the other distinguishing signs: if that runny nose produces clear mucus, it’s most likely an allergy. The mucus from a cold tends to be yellow or green. Also, the duration of the symptoms is a key sign; a cold can last anywhere from three to fourteen days, while allergy symptoms can drag on for much longer.
An Ounce of Prevention…
Preventing allergy symptoms is fairly straightforward; just avoid the allergens that cause them. Easier said than done, right? Dr. Jaber had a few more tips:
“Avoid melon and tomatoes during ragweed season, because they can cause a cross-reaction.” That goes for cucumbers, zucchini and even chamomile tea or Echinacea, the cross-reaction coming from the protein in the food and the pollen in the air. I asked Dr. Jaber if there were any New York City-specific tips for preventing allergy symptoms. He laughed and said, “When the leaves start coming down and the rest of the country is taking out their air conditioners, leave yours in. And get a HEPA air filter.” The re-circulated air is better than the pollen-filled air outside, especially if the air filter continues to purify it.
Preventing a cold is a little more challenging. Over 200 viruses can cause colds and these viruses can be quite hardy, existing on surfaces for hours, even days, before your kid picks them up. And in New York City, with so many people in such a small amount of space, it can feel like there are germs waiting to attack around every corner.
The absolute best thing you can do for your family is teach everyone to wash their hands. Often. With soap. And scrub for at least 20 seconds, the time it takes to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” If you can’t wash your hands, using an alcohol-based sanitizer or even rubbing your hands briskly together for a minute will make short work of those cold germs.
If those pesky germs do make it on to your kids’ hands, you can head them off at the pass by teaching your kids to not touch their faces. In the same vein, teach them to sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, not into their hands. It’s all about keeping the viruses from making their way into their eyes, nose or mouth and thus entering the body.
A few other preventative measures consist of drinking plenty of fluids, flushing the system regularly, and possibly trying probiotics, foods or supplements that contain “good” bacteria; although more research is needed, there are encouraging signs that probiotics may help ward off a cold or reduce its severity. Lastly, many studies have shown that stress and fatigue are linked to illness; try to make sure your child is getting enough rest and isn’t too overwhelmed by school work or activities.
CBS New York wishes you a happy (and healthy) fall season!