Twice every year, near the beginning of April and October, I get "sick". Not the usual fever, achiness, and fatigue of a cold or flu, but worse than normal allergies. This happens without fail, and several people I've spoken to claim the same. All my life I've heard the saying that exposing yourself to the cold and rain will cause you to become ill, yet the scientific community has debunked that myth. Still, the fact remains that I get sick at the same time of year, every year, so what gives?
Is it Just Allergies?
I've had a history with seasonal allergies since I was born, and as a result, I've become well acquainted with antihistamines. For most of the year I take daily loratadine (Claritin),and when I get more breakthrough hay fever symptoms such as sneezing and itchy, watery, bloodshot eyes, I combat them with diphenhydramine (Benadryl). However, during these particular times during the change of seasons, antihistamines seemingly lose their effect. The most frustrating part is the fact that I still get all the side effects, but with absolutely no relief! If the antihistamines aren't working, then I'm convinced I'm not experiencing symptoms related to allergies.
Is it the Common Cold or Flu?
Flu and colds occur more often in the winter, and there are a couple of reasons for this. First, the cold weather tends to make people more prone to staying indoors, and people are in contact with each other for longer periods of time. This obviously makes the risk of spreading infection higher in the winter. Secondly, viruses love dry air. Not only is the air more dry outside, but indoor heating strips even more moisture out of the air, sometimes leaving the relative humidity near 10%. Considering that normal relative humidity is in the range from 50% to 60%, these further increases the risk of transmitting the diseases.
For these reasons, I can't relate my health issues solely to the cold or flu. I live in Illinois, and in April and October, the humidity levels are close to normal. The heat is not full-blast like it would be in the dead of winter. Furthermore, I don't usually get sick during winter, so I must consider other reasons.
So is it the Weather?
During my research, I came across several articles on WebMD like this one that detailed non-allergic rhinitis. Apparently, the changes in weather can cause allergy-like symptoms, but not in the ways many people think. When your body is exposed to rapidly changing weather conditions, such as changes in temperature or humidity, your body reacts. The blood vessels in your nose swell, causing congestion and sneezing. And since this occurs around the same time that seasonal allergies start to be a factor, many assume that their allergies are the cause.
How Can you Get Relief?
First, if your typical antihistamine dose doesn't work, it's probably not allergies. Taking more than usual will only increase your side effects, and may make the situation worse by over-drying your sinuses and nasal passages. I've found that taking the decongestant phenylephrine will help my symptoms moderately, but I get the best results by using a nasal spray containing oxymetazoline such as Sinex. Unfortunately, I discovered the hard way that your body will quickly become dependant on oxymetazoline, so you should never use it more than three days in a row, otherwise you could experience rebound symptoms when the drug wears off.
Once I discovered that the weather can indeed cause these symptoms, I can't say I was relieved. Besides the common cold and seasonal allergies, I now have another cause to consider. At least now I can save myself from wasting antihistamines, which only adds drowsiness and cloudiness to my list of symptoms.