CLOSE
iStock
iStock

3 Ways to Tell Whether You Have Allergies or a Cold

iStock
iStock

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]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Phil Walter, Getty Images
arrow
science
How Michael Jackson's Dancing Defied the Laws of Biomechanics
Phil Walter, Getty Images
Phil Walter, Getty Images

From the time he debuted the moonwalk on broadcast television in 1983, Michael Jackson transcended the label of "dancer." His moves seemed to defy gravity as well as the normal limits of human flexibility and endurance.

Now we have some scientific evidence for that. Three neurosurgeons from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, recently published a short paper in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine that examines just how remarkable one of Jackson's signature moves really was.

In the 1988 video for "Smooth Criminal" and subsequent live performances, Jackson is seen taking a break from his constant motion to stand in place and lean 45 degrees forward. Both he and his dancers keep their backs straight. Biomechanically, it's not really possible for a human to do. And even though he had a little help, the neurosurgeons found it to be a pretty impressive feat.

An illustration of Michael Jackson's 'Smooth Criminal' dance move.
Courtesy of 'Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.' Copyright Manjul Tripathi, MCh.

Study co-author Manjul Tripathi told CNN that humans can't lean forward much more than 25 or 30 degrees before they risk landing on their faces. (He knows, because he tried it.) Normally, bending involves using the hip as a fulcrum, and erector spinae muscles to support our trunk. When Jackson leaned over, he transferred the fulcrum to the ankle, with the calf and Achilles tendon under strain. Since that part of the body is not equipped to support leaning that far forward without bending, the "Smooth Criminal" move was really a biomechanical illusion. The act was made possible by Jackson's patented shoe, which had a "catch" built under the heel that allowed him to grasp a protruding support on the stage. Secured to the floor, he was able to achieve a 45-degree lean without falling over.

But the neurosurgeons are quick to point out that the shoes are only part of the equation. To achieve the full 45-degree lean, Jackson would have had to have significant core strength as well as a strong Achilles tendon. An average person equipped with the shoe would be unable to do the move.

How does this apply to spinal biomechanics research? The authors point out that many dancers inspired by Jackson are continuing to push the limits of what's possible, leading to injury. In one 2010 paper, researchers surveyed 312 hip-hop dancers and found that 232 of them—almost 75 percent of the cohort—reported a total of 738 injuries over a six-month period. That prevalence could mean neurosurgeons are facing increasingly complex or unique spinal issues. The surgeons hope that awareness of potential risks could help mitigate problems down the road.

[h/t CNN]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Scientists May Have Pinpointed How Much Exercise Your Heart Needs to Stay Healthy
iStock
iStock

There’s really no limit to the benefits of exercise, from cognitive improvement to increased cardiovascular capacity to more energy. But one of the biggest reasons to maintain a fitness regimen is to ward off chronic conditions. For example, exercise helps keep arteries from stiffening as we age, which lowers our risk of heart disease.

"Get some exercise," however, isn't exactly specific advice. Is twice a week good enough? Three times a week? Five? And for how long each time?

Researchers in Dallas, Texas may have found an answer. According to Newsweek, a study by staff at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine and area hospitals looked at 102 people, aged 60 and over, who self-identified as either sedentary, casual, committed, or master-level exercisers. They worked out anywhere from almost never to daily. The researchers found that casual exercise (two to three times weekly, 30 minutes each session) was associated with keeping the mid-sized arteries, like those found in the head and neck, from aging prematurely. But four to five sessions per week helped stabilize the larger central arteries, which send blood to the chest and abdomen. The research was published in the Journal of Physiology.

The study did not look at the type of exercise performed or other lifestyle choices that may have affected the participants' arterial health. But when it comes to moving your body to keep your arteries limber, it seems safe to say that more is better.

[h/t Newsweek]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios