Am I Sick, or Just Allergic?

April 28, 2024

by  | Apr 29, 2024 | Healthy Living

Am I Sick, or Just Allergic?

The dull dreary days of winter are in the rear-view mirror. People are emerging from their winter cocoons with close quarters and communal germs. It’s spring and you want to get on with some warm weather fun…….local activity…. but you feel lousy. You thought warmer weather would chase all the contagions away, so what’s up with all the sniffles, body aches, and exhaustion?

Contrary to popular impression, viruses that leave you feeling crummy don’t leave with winter, they just slowly swap places with others. The winter is chock full of rhinoviruses and the flu, but in the warmer months we see an increase in non-polio enteroviruses. Between the months of June and October infections from enterovirus affect between 10 to 15 million people nationwide. Children are the most affected, but adults can become ill if exposed to viruses they have not previously encountered.


It’s common for colds to peak for a second time in the spring. The usual seasonal swings of barometric pressure, air temperature, and wind irritate and dry out our nasal passages which are often the first line of defense against illness. If you are suffering from allergies on top of fighting a virus, the two combined can overwhelm the immune system making you miserable all around. Colds seem to thrive in cooler temperatures. A Yale research study found that a simple 7-degree drop in ambient temperature (from 98.6 to 91.4 degrees) helps cold viruses replicate because viruses seem to prefer cooler temperatures. The weather flipping between cold and warm as it often does in the spring may play into this effect. One way we can help our bodies fight off invading viruses is to keep our noses warm in cooler weather by wearing a scarf.

Enteroviruses replicate in the intestinal tract—in the throat behind the mouth, and in the intestines. They are responsible for many illnesses, including polio and males experience a higher rate of infection than women. The U.S. has seen no cases of wild polio since 1979, however, enteroviruses do cause a few serious illnesses, but mostly they are responsible for the common cold, pink eye, fever, gastrointestinal upset, rash, cough, sore throat, and chest pain. Many of the associated illnesses are self-limited meaning they do not require medical intervention—they simply work their way through your system as you treat the symptoms.

Unlike many viruses, enteroviruses can survive the stomach’s acidic environment and pass into the small intestine to wreak havoc. The best method to protect yourself from enteroviruses is to keep washing your hands, especially after interacting in a public environment, and avoid touching your face.

Using warm, soapy water, wash your hands for 20 seconds:

  • Before cooking or preparing foods
  • Before eating
  • After using the bathroom
  • After changing diapers or assisting in toileting needs
  • More often when someone in your household is sick

Seasonal Allergies/Asthma

If you have asthma, you may be experiencing symptoms for longer than in the past and it’s making you ill. From 2001 to 2012 a study was conducted in Maryland observing nearly 30,000 people with asthma and the effects of early onset of spring where a 17% increase in asthma hospitalizations was discovered. Early spring increases the length of tree pollen season and places a higher-than-normal burden on those with tree pollen sensitivity. Studies suggest that every 1-°C (or 1.81°F) in atmospheric temperature advances flowering dates by 2 to 10 days. Pollen is a leading risk factor in the worsening of asthma symptoms and in general is bad for those with seasonal allergies, but extra pollen can increase the suffering. Some people only realize the trees are releasing pollen once they begin to react. Severe allergies can start a chain reaction in the body leading to inflammation of the nasal tissues resulting in breathing issues and sleep disruption. Allergy fatigue can set in quickly causing persistent tiredness negatively impacting day-to-day life and lowering the body’s ability to fight viruses. Once the process has begun, it can take a bit of time to get it under control.

Tips To Control Allergies

  1. Become aware of pollen forecasts and current pollen levels for your area start taking allergy medications before your symptoms begin
  2. Close doors and windows at night and whenever pollen counts are high; use air conditioning in your house and car; replace filters regularly
  3. Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest
  4. Use a humidifier to keep indoor air moist
  5. Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom.
  6. Regularly run a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter

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