3 Ways to Tell Whether You Have Allergies or a Cold

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It happens to everyone sooner or later. You're either too congested to breathe or you have to plug your nose with tissues while sleeping to avoid dripping onto your pillow. It's not serious enough to see a doctor, but you're not exactly sure what you're up against. Is it a cold or just allergies?

The common cold is caused by viruses, while allergy attacks are the body's response to a foreign (albeit usually harmless) substance. Despite their differences, the two ailments can cause remarkably similar symptoms—but luckily there are a few ways to tell them apart, according to several physicians who spoke with U.S. News & World Report.

The first step, naturally, is to check your symptoms. If you have particular symptoms other than sneezing and a stuffy or runny nose, you probably have a cold or an infection. The most common symptoms associated with colds are a sore throat, fever, muscle aches, and yellow mucus. Alternatively, itchy or swollen eyes and fatigue are more commonly associated with allergies. The Mayo Clinic has a helpful chart comparing allergies and cold symptoms.

If you're still uncertain, you may want to consider whether you've had any recent exposure to common allergy triggers, such as pollen, animal hair, dust, mold, and certain foods and medications. If you're prone to allergies, you'd probably start to feel ill immediately after coming into contact with the source.

"Cutting grass, standing at the soccer complex or riding with the windows down [can all expose you to allergens]," Dr. Jeremy Allen, of Birmingham, Alabama, tells U.S. News & World Report.

Allen says you should also consider the time of year. If the weather has changed for the better, you are likely experiencing allergy flare-ups caused by tree or grass pollen. In some parts of the U.S., the spring allergy season begins in February and lasts until early summer, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. A particularly rainy spring can cause more mold growth, triggering allergies well into fall.

When it comes to allergies, prevention is one of the best steps you can take. Mother Nature Network recommends avoiding the outdoors between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when pollen counts are the highest. But if you must go outside, be sure to don sunglasses to protect your eyes, keep your car windows up, and cover your mouth and nose, if possible. A dab of Vaseline inside each nostril will help to stop that pesky pollen in its tracks.

If it's too late for prevention, you may find yourself at the pharmacy wondering whether you should buy an antihistamine or a decongestant. Fortunately, even if you misdiagnose your condition and take the "wrong" over-the-counter drug, it may end up helping you anyway. Antihistamines like Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec will help stop your nose from running (and save you some money on tissues), while nasal sprays and decongestants will tackle stuffiness—regardless of whether it's a cold or allergies that are plaguing you. Other allergy medicines may prove ineffective if you have a cold, but they're not unsafe to take, Dr. Clifford Bassett tells U.S. News & World Report.

Both a cold and allergies can lead to sinus infections—colds turn into infections about 10 percent of the time, according to Bassett—so it's wise to seek treatment if your symptoms persist or worsen after a week.

[h/t U.S. News and World Report]

6 Dreaded Tasks That Are Actually Great For Managing Stress

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iStock.com/gilaxia

High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can wreak havoc on your body. (According to a recent study on middle-aged adults, stress not only impairs memory but may even cause the brain to shrink!) Thankfully, some commonly dreaded activities can help reduce your frazzled state.

1. Washing the Dishes

According to a 2014 study published in the journal Mindfulness, a “mindful” approach to dishwashing could reduce stress. “A sample of 51 college students engaged in either a mindful or control dishwashing practice before completing measures of mindfulness, affect, and experience recall,” the study states. “Mindful dishwashers evidenced … increases in elements of positive affect (i.e., inspiration) [and] decreases in elements of negative affect (i.e., nervousness)." In other words, with the right mindset, zoning out in front of a sudsy sink is basically Nirvana.

2. Decluttering Your Home

Research suggests that clutter is more likely to stress out women. In 2010, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked to see how married couples dealt with (and felt about) messy homes [PDF]. “The wives in the study who perceived themselves as having a cluttered home or a home that needed work tended to have increased levels of cortisol throughout the day,” Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi wrote in The New York Times. "Those who weren’t feeling cluttered, which included most of the men in the study, had cortisol levels that tended to drop during the days.” So tidy up!

3. Exercising In A Group

Working out can feel like a chore, and exercising with a group can be a tad embarrassing—especially if you’re not on the same fitness level as everybody else. But according to research in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, exercising with a group is more beneficial at reducing stress than working out alone. “Researchers found that working out in a group lowers stress by 26 percent,” according to the press release. Go ahead and book that spin class!

4. Sniffing Your Partner’s Laundry

No sane person puts “sniff your significant other's dirty socks” on their to-do list, but perhaps they should. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that sniffing a loved one’s clothes can reduce stress. In the study, 96 women sniffed one of three scents—a neutral smell, their romantic partner’s scent, or the scent of a stranger. The stranger’s smell caused cortisol to spike. But their partner’s smell? It reduced stress.

5. Dwelling On Your Failures

The title of this study, which appeared in the journal Frontiers in 2018, says it all: “Writing About Past Failures Attenuates Cortisol Responses and Sustained Attention Deficits Following Psychosocial Stress.” According to the study, “[W]riting about a previous failure may allow an individual to experience a new stressor as less stressful, reducing its physiological and behavioral effects.” It sounds paradoxical, but the next time you're facing a crazy situation, just reflect on a time when it all went wrong—and things might not feel so bad.

6. Singing For All to Hear

For the shy and tone-deaf, singing in a group might be a anxiety-fueled nightmare—but they should try it anyway. A pilot study presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference last year showed that, in people with Parkinson's disease, singing in a group can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. (Researchers cautioned that this is preliminary data.) The findings jibe with a 2016 study from Drexel University that found, no matter your skill level, making art usually reduces cortisol levels [PDF].

Nearly Half of American Adults Don't Know Their Own Blood Type

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iStock.com/nzphotonz

If you know your blood type, you’re better off than nearly half of Americans. Of the 1004 adults in the U.S. who answered a recent Quest Diagnostics survey, only 57 percent said they knew whether they have type A, B, AB, or O blood.

This is roughly the same number of people who could recall their childhood phone number (55 percent), the survey revealed. By comparison, 74 percent of respondents remembered their lengthy Wi-Fi password, and 75 percent knew how much money was in their bank account.

For many, other personal health information was even murkier. Fewer than two in five people knew their cholesterol or blood sugar levels. Considering that these details provide important insights into one’s risk for certain diseases, survey administrators said this is a cause for concern.

“With consumers increasingly engaged in their own and their loved ones’ health care, it’s critical that they ‘know their numbers’—and have those numbers readily accessible—to ensure productive communication with their healthcare provider for both routine and critical care,” Cathy Doherty of Quest Diagnostics said in a press release.

With the exception of emergencies, at which time you may receive a universal donor's O-negative blood, doctors will almost always conduct blood typing and cross-matching tests to determine your blood type and identify minor antigens in your blood before conducting a transfusion or surgery.

It’s still important to know your blood type for other reasons. Newborn babies, for example, can develop hemolytic disease if their Rh blood type (meaning whether it's positive or negative) doesn’t match their mother's. And depending on your blood type, you may also have an increased risk for blood clots, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and even severe diarrhea and mosquito bites.

If you know your blood type, you’re also in a better position to donate blood and help people in need if there’s a natural disease or emergency, or if blood banks simply have a low supply. O blood tends to be the highest in demand (and O-positive is the most common blood type), but blood banks may issue public notices from time to time if they need a particular type.

If you’re unsure of your blood type, clinical labs like Quest Diagnostics offer blood type tests. You can also order test kits online from Amazon.

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