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May 10, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Cold, Flu, or Something Else?

By Claire Franklin More Blogs by This Author

"I'm Not Allergic to Anything"

My boyfriend hasn’t felt well for about four days. He came down suddenly with cold-like symptoms: stuffy nose, cough, and general head congestion. So I made him a mug of fragrant chamomile tea, gave him some cough syrup, and saw him off to bed.

The next morning, he seemed better, not as congested as he had been and a little livelier than the night before. But, by that evening, when he had finished work, he was sagging again like a sail without wind. Similarly, his symptoms had gotten worse. In addition to his cough, which was increasing in frequency, his eyes were pink and watery, and his skin red and blotchy, like he’d broken out in a rash. He looked awful, and I could tell just by talking to him he felt as bad as he looked.

While we were talking about his symptoms, it suddenly occurred to me that he may have allergies. His symptoms hit him very quickly, without prior warning or signal. And his affliction just happens to coincide with the arrival of spring, which means all kinds of plants, weeds, and other allergens are in full bloom.

To test my theory, I began asking him more details about his symptoms. “My skin is itchy,” he told me. “And I feel clammy. The worst part is how congested I am…it feels like my sinuses are ready to explode. They’re pushing on my forehead and giving me a headache.” I told him it sounded like a case of allergies, which he immediately refuted. “I’m not allergic to anything,” he said passionately. “I’ve never had allergies. I probably just have a cold.”

Adult Development of Allergies

Contrary to popular belief, allergies can develop at any time. You may be fine for years and then suddenly wake up with hay fever, asthma, or another condition that you'd never previously dealt with.

My mother experienced a similar situation in her mid 40s. All her life, she had loved to eat shellfish – crab legs and clams being her favorite. But one night, after a huge dinner at a seafood restaurant, she could actually feel her diaphragm begin to swell and push against her lungs. She had difficulty breathing, and we had to take her to the hospital. It turns out she had developed an allergy to the foods she loved so much, namely shellfish. I don’t know why this happened, but she hasn’t consumed any seafood since that awful night.

Allergy Medications

So, based on previous personal experiences and the symptoms my boyfriend described, I called our local pharmacy and spoke to a technician. She agreed he could be suffering from allergies and told me he should take Benadryl at night to help with his itchy skin and to keep the other symptoms at bay. During the day, she recommended Zyrtec or Allegra D, both in non-drowsy formulas. The latter two medicines actually stay in the body for longer, about 10 to 12 hours, whereas Benadryl only works for about four to six.

She also told me that Benadryl is the standard allergy medication against which all others are measured. She then said that even if his condition couldn’t be explained by allergies, the Benadryl would help him feel better and not cause any harm.

He began the technician’s recommended regimen immediately and now feels more like his old self. His skin looks better, and the coughing and congestion have noticeably decreased. Unfortunately, he will probably have to stay on these medications for at least the duration of the spring.

He says he’s still not convinced he has allergies, but I think he’s just being stubborn.

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