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Cold, flu or allergies? Chattanooga Allergy Clinic helps diagnose

Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014

With cold weather comes the troubles of cold and flu season. As the sniffles set in, the doctors at Chattanooga Allergy Clinic are ready to help patients determine if that runny nose is just a seasonal bug or something more.

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“This time of year, when so many people are sick, it can be difficult to tell if you’re facing the flu, a cold or an allergy trigger,” explained Dr. Marc Cromie. “People often joke and ask if we just take off during December and January because there is no pollen, but we’re actually busier than ever because so many people are sick and end up having trouble with their indoor allergies and asthma as a result.”

There are some questions to ask yourself to help determine the right ways to get relief and lead to the right diagnosis.

First, a fever with aches and chills is never allergies, but can be signs of influenza. Dr. Cromie said that patients who suspect the flu should be tested by their primary care physician and, if positive, get treated with Tamiflu within the first 48 hours of symptoms surfacing.

Sneezing is a symptom that can accompany either ailment. However, sneezing that lasts more than a week and is paired with itchy, watery eyes points to trouble with allergies, he added “This time of year, common (allergy) triggers are dust mites, indoor pets and mold. Many people are also bothered by irritants such as dry heat, potpourri/ candles and even changes in barometric pressure,” Dr. Cromie said.

Relief options available for those dealing with allergies include oral antihistamines and antihistamine nasal spray, over-the-counter saline solutions and topical steroid nose sprays. Dr. Cromie stressed that avoidance is also key. Keeping bed linens washed in hot water and furniture dusted, putting allergy-proof dust mite covers on pillows and mattresses and being sure to wear a facemask while cleaning are all ways to help avoid dust mite exposure.

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“Avoid wood heat and kerosene heat if you can,” Dr. Cromie added. “That’s actually one of the biggest cutaneous and respiratory irritants this winter, causing the skin in the nose to dry out and even result in nosebleeds in some cases. Kerosene heat can also trigger asthma attacks.”

Patients who find themselves dealing with severe nosebleeds as a result of dry heat can find relief in over-the-counter saline gels and antibiotic ointments to coat the inside of the nose at night, which aids in the healing process.

Any cold symptoms that persist longer than a week or month should be addressed with an allergist. Flu viruses typically run their course in five days, while common colds can last seven to 10 days, Dr. Cromie explained. “Anything longer usually points to allergies, and if over-thecounter meds are no longer helping, then it is time to see a board-certified allergist for testing,” he said.

“Even though some walk-in clinics and other non-allergy specialists may offer allergy testing and shots, most patients should see a board-certified allergist for this,” he continued, adding jokingly, “Would you go to a walk-in clinic for heart surgery? No! So see your friendly neighborhood allergist for your allergy and asthma needs.”

Allergists are required to spend an additional two to three years of fellowship training after residency to become an allergy and asthma specialist.

Chattanooga Allergy Clinic treats all types of allergic disorders including hay fever, asthma, sinusitis, food allergies and atopic dermatitis, just to name a few. The practice has five offices with eight providers in and around Chattanooga.

For more information about perennial allergies and how to avoid them, or to find an office near

you, visit or call 423-899-0431.

  1. Fever = flu or cold
  2. Muscle/aches and pains = flu
  3. Runny nose: clear = allergies; colored = cold/ infection
  4. Congestion/stuffiness = allergies or cold
  5. Sore throat = cold
  6. Sneezing = allergies if persistent lasting longer than a week; cold or flu if short or abbreviated
  7. Watery, itchy eyes = allergies
  8. Cough = drainage, cold; allergies otherwise
  9. Tired/fatigued = flu
  10. Headaches = flu
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