by Deborah Lynn Blumberg January 28, 2021 3 min read

You wake up with a stuffy nose and headache, and it makes you wonder if you have a virus or cold or something else. After all, maybe you just have seasonal allergies.

The symptoms can be similar — but, regardless of the cause, you might feel fatigued or have aches and pains. To best support your body as it heals, it's important to be able to tell the difference between a virus or cold and allergies.

Viruses

A virus is a microscopic organism that uses host cells to reproduce. When a virus enters the body, it inserts its genetic materials into cells, then continues to reproduce. Viruses can cause familiar diseases, like chickenpox and the flu.

While all virus' are different, common symptoms typically include:

  • Headaches
  • Significant joint aches and pains
  • A higher fever that lasts for several days

People with viruses may or may not develop upper respiratory symptom infections. Either way, take viruses seriously. When left unchecked, even seemingly minor viral infections have the potential to develop into conditions like bronchitis or pneumonia.

Colds

One kind of viral infection is the common cold, which often irritate the nose and throat. Colds can stem from more than 200 different types of viruses.

Cold symptoms typically include:

  • Minor fatigue
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Blocked ears
  • A low-grade fever
  • Minor aches and pains

Typically, a cold is harmless. However, common colds can lead to bacterial infections, so it's important to address a cold at the first sign of symptoms.

Allergies

Allergies happen when the body produces antibodies in reaction to a foreign substance. People who suffer from allergies — which can range from mild to severe — have an immune system that overreacts to something, such as pollen or mold.

The immune system releases chemicals like histamine, which causes the body to force allergens out through the nose, eyes or mouth, ultimately creating inflammation.

Allergy symptoms may include:

  • Sneezing
  • A stuffy nose
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • An itchy throat
  • Blocked ears
  • Postnasal drip that may get worse at night
  • Some fatigue

Unlike the common cold or viruses in general, allergies should not cause a fever. Allergies, when left unattended, can lead to issues like earaches or asthma.

Relieving Allergies

Allergy relief can sometimes lie with an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO), which is responsible for breaking down histamine.

When you have an allergic reaction, your body produces histamine. This sends inflammatory signals throughout the body, leading to reactions like watery eyes. Exposure to allergens may be the cause, but insufficient DAO levels can also play a part.

The good news is there are ways to boost DAO naturally. Omega-3, for one, has been shown to release DAO. It can be found in foods like olive oil, wild-caught salmon and walnuts.

Portrait of pretty young woman eating an apple in her office.

Supporting the Immune System

Boosting the immune system is key to avoiding viruses and colds. Luckily, the body knows how to stay well, It simply needs the right raw materials — including the right vitamins, nutrients and herbs.

Here are some suggestions of the top foods to boost immunity and how they help:

  • Citrus is a source of vitamin C. Put juice from half a lemon and sea salt in your water for a naturally nutritious drink.
  • Apples contain phytochemicals including quercetin, a strong antioxidant.
  • Berries have phytonutrients, which have been shown to modulate immune function.
  • Oats have beta-glucan, which can help boost infection-fighting blood cells.
  • Cruciferous vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli can stimulate the immune system.
  • Kimchi, fermented cabbage, can help balance bacteria in the gut, where most of the immune system lives.
  • Garlic can help raise the number of virus-fighting T-cells in the bloodstream.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil has a high concentration of antioxidants.
  • Don't forget water — aim to drink half your body weight in ounces every day.

    Whether you're dealing with allergies, a virus or cold, supporting the immune system is always important to ward off harmful offenders. Prioritize your immune system, and you equip yourself to better handle whatever virus, cold or allergies might come your way.



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