Warmer weather and longer days mean allergies are getting into full swing, even though we still have weeks to go in flu season. That means a lot of people are sniffling and sneezing - but not all of them are contagious. And if you take the wrong kind of medication, you could be letting yourself in for a lot of extra misery.
The National Institute of Health says a virus, whether it's a common cold or the flu, should go away within two weeks, while allergies will last a lot longer.
The flu usually causes a fever and aches that can leave you feeling weak. Allergies might make you miserable, but they typically don't cause a fever.
If you have itchy, watery eyes, it's a strong sign that you're dealing with allergies, not a virus. That's because most seasonal allergies are caused by fine bits of pollen drifting on the breeze, and the pollen is just as irritating to your eyes as it is to your nose and throat.
If you think you might have the flu, you need to get to a doctor as soon as possible, because you'll need to take prescription anti-viral medications within 48 hours of getting sick. For a common cold, your best bet is to just wait it out, with as much rest as possible and plenty of fluids.
When it comes to allergies, you have a few more options, and not all of them involve medication. The first step might be obvious: stay as far away from pollen as you can.
"When you come back in [from spending time outdoors] consider a change of clothes, maybe even washing off your hair and skin" recommends Dr. David Jeong at Virginia Mason Medical Center. "When you're driving around, as much as this can be hard, keeping the windows up...and also in the home, keeping the windows up as much as possible."
Dr. Jeong says, despite the late start to allergy season this year, pollen count is already high in many areas. If avoiding pollen isn't an option, or just isn't working, you may need to take an antihistamine or decongestant. If over the counter medications aren't cutting it, you can also talk to your doctor about prescription-strength options.