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]

15 Scientific Ways to Relax for National Relaxation Day

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Today is National Relaxation Day, so you have a great excuse to take it easy. Here’s how science can help you have the most laid-back day of the year.

1. GET A HOUSE OR OFFICE PLANT.

Spending time in nature improves your overall wellbeing, but it turns out even just a little greenery is great for your health. Studies have shown patients in hospital rooms with plants report lower stress. Even just stepping into a lush space can reduce your heart rate. Plus, plants are effective at increasing oxygen and clearing out toxins, which should help you breathe easier—literally.

2. AVOID SCREENS BEFORE BEDTIME.

Artificial light from TV and computer screens affects melatonin production and throws off circadian rhythms, which messes with your sleep. Studies have found that young adults were more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, high stress and even depression if they reported intensive use of cell phones and computers at night.

3. LISTEN TO CLASSICAL MUSIC.

Any music you enjoy is bound to make you feel better, but classical music, in particular, has been shown to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and even decrease levels of stress hormones.

4. DRINK GREEN TEA SWEETENED WITH HONEY.

Green tea contains L-theanine, which reduces stress, and honey—unlike cane sugar—has been shown to counteract free radicals and reduce inflammation, which is sometimes linked to depression.

5. GIVE YOURSELF A HAND MASSAGE.

Especially if you spend all day typing, hands can get really tense. A quick massage should be doable at your desk and if you incorporate some lavender-scented lotion, you’ll get extra relaxation benefits.

6. LOCK LIPS WITH SOMEONE.

Romance is relaxing! Kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that is shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

7. CHEW GUM.

No matter what flavor it is, the act of chewing gum has been proven to lower cortisol and improve reported mood.

8. BLOW UP A BALLOON.

Reacting to stress with short, shallow breaths will only exacerbate the problem—your body needs more oxygen, not less, to relax. Blowing up a balloon will help you refocus on your breathing. No balloons around? Just concentrate on taking a few deep breaths.

9. MOW THE LAWN.

Research shows that a chemical released by a mowed lawn—that fresh-cut grass smell—makes people feel happy and relaxed. Plus, knocking it off your to-do list will give you one less thing to stress about.

10. FIND SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU LAUGH.

Watching a funny video online does more than just brighten your afternoon, it physically helps to relax you by increasing the endorphins released by your brain.

11. MUNCH ON CHOCOLATE.

What’s also good at releasing endorphins? Chocolate. Studies show that even just 40 grams of dark chocolate a day can help you de-stress.

12. EAT A BANANA.

Potassium helps your body regulate blood pressure. Keeping that under control should help you bounce back more quickly from what’s got you stressed.

13. MAKE ANOTHER TRIP TO THE FRUIT STAND.

Still hungry after that chocolate and banana? Try citrus. Recent studies show that vitamin C helps to alleviate the physical and psychological effects of stress.

14. FOCUS ON RELAXING ALL OF YOUR MUSCLES.

Take a break from whatever you’re doing and, starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a few moments slowly tensing, and then releasing, the muscles of each part of your body.

15. TAKE A MINI MENTAL VACATION.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, take a moment to close your eyes and picture a particularly relaxing scene. It may sound cheesy, but numerous studies show that just a few minutes of disengaging from your stressors rejuvenates your ability to tackle the work.

After Seven Years, Melbourne Has Been Displaced as the World's Most Liveable City

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We should all move to Vienna. That's what the Economist Intelligence Unit recommends: In a new report, it ranked Austria's capital as the world's most liveable city. With a score of 99.1 out of 100, Vienna beat out Melbourne for the top spot, which the Australian city had held onto for the past seven consecutive years. This is the City of Music's first time being number one.

The survey ranks 140 cities worldwide based on five categories: stability (including crime and terrorism); healthcare; culture and environment (including level of censorship, temperature, and cultural offerings); education; and infrastructure (including public transportation, housing, energy, and water). Overall, there were improvements in safety and stability this year for the countries surveyed.

Vienna scored a perfect 100 in four out of five categories. The only area in which the city could use a tiny bit of improvement is in culture and environment—though its 96.3 score is still pretty impressive.

The cities that scored best on the list tend to be mid-sized with low population densities and located in wealthy countries. The world's biggest urban centers, such as New York, London, and Paris, may be popular places to live for their unbeatable food and culture, but high levels of crime, congestion, and public transportation issues make quality of life less desirable and drag them down in the rankings.

The top 10 most liveable cities are:

1. Vienna, Austria
2. Melbourne, Australia
3. Osaka, Japan
4. Calgary, Canada
5. Sydney, Australia
6. Vancouver, Canada
7. Toronto, Canada
8. Tokyo, Japan
9. Copenhagen, Denmark
10. Adelaide, Australia

And here are the 10 least liveable cities:

131. Dakar, Senegal
132. Algiers, Algeria
133. Douala, Cameroon
134. Tripoli, Libya
135. Harare, Zimbabwe
136. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
137. Karachi, Pakistan
138. Lagos, Nigeria
139. Dhaka, Bangladesh
140. Damascus, Syria

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