While parts of the East Coast have been hit with nearly 12 inches of snow, parts of the Midwest were enjoying highs into the 60s and in the same week. No wonder everyone seems to be sneezing and coughing? But do they have a cold or an allergy?

The prevalence of allergies is nothing to sneeze at. Roughly 40 million Americans suffer from allergies of some kind, and those numbers may be growing.

Sharp temperature fluctuations aren’t just creating major wardrobe challenges around the country. For people coughing, sneezing and blowing their nose, the weather is also making it harder to diagnose the cause of their symptoms.

According to Raymond Slavin, MD, signs of an early allergy season started to bloom in the beginning of February as significant counts of tree pollen were being detected. However, a sudden burst of winter weather can drastically reduce pollen counts, making it difficult to predict the start of allergy season while also extending cold season. He says, "Allergies and colds share many of the same symptoms which can make diagnosing the problem more difficult. However, there are a few distinctions that can help you differentiate between the two."

These are: Duration–Cold symptoms usually last for only a few days. Allergy symptoms can last weeks or even months when left untreated. Timing– Seasonal allergies occur the same time every year. A cold is more sporadic, and is most often contracted during the winter. Itching–The presence of itching either in the eyes or nose is a common symptom of an allergy, but rarely occurs with a cold. Family history–Allergies to a particular irritant can be passed down genetically. If you have a family history of allergies, your symptoms are more likely to be caused by allergies than a cold.

Slavin says, "Over the last ten years, allergy diseases have increased markedly. While there have been no definitive explanations for the increase, global warming is believed to be extending the pollen season which may be impacting allergy sufferers."

Stop sneezing and start smiling: Come to the delightful city of Nashville in May, when we hold our popular Dreamland Festival. It’s a place filled with sunshine and music and–while WE’RE there–great INFORMATION!

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