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Spring is a beautiful time of year in Mouth of Wilson, VA.  We have lush vegetation here in the Blue Ridge and it is just beginning to reveal itself. Trees are budding and getting their leaves, the grass is being mowed, and flowers are starting to bloom.  As beautiful as it is, it can also have the undesirable effect of causing seasonal allergies. For some of our students, this is a new problem.  They might never have been exposed to this environment before, so allergies are a foreign idea. For others of our students, allergies are an old enemy that wreaks havoc for them every spring and fall.  Many students are currently complaining of sore throats, congestion, and sneezing. It can be difficult to tell if these symptoms are being caused by allergies or the common cold. How can you tell the difference?  It can be difficult, but here are some assessments I use.

The first question I ask is, “Do you have a fever or body aches?”  An allergy does not cause a fever or body aches. The second question is “How long have you had these symptoms?” Colds usually are self-limiting and last only about 7-10 days.  If the symptoms have lasted longer, without worsening or improving, they are usually caused by allergies. The last thing I look for is if there are any patterns related to these symptoms.  “Do you get these symptoms the same time every year?” If so, the patient probably has seasonal allergies. After I have determined the cause of the symptoms, then I can plan how to treat them.

Despite what the name suggests, a person can catch a “cold” at any time of the year.  It is estimated that adults catch colds 2-3 times per year and children even more because their immune systems have not been exposed to as many cold viruses.  A cold is caused by a viral infection and is not “curable.” Antibiotics are not effective in the treatment of colds. Treatment includes addressing symptoms for short-term relief and supporting the body’s natural immune response to help fight the virus off faster. Cough suppressants, analgesics and decongestants can help make you more comfortable if you are suffering from a cold. Getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids and maintaining overall good health can help your body’s immune system fight off cold viruses.  If a complication develops, such as a sinus infection or an ear infection, only then should treatment with antibiotics be considered.

There are several treatment options for allergies, and the choice depends upon the severity of the symptoms.  For my students, I often suggest trying Zyrtec or Allegra first. These are the most effective over-the-counter antihistamine treatments I have found. Of course, if a person can avoid the allergen itself as much as possible, that is very helpful as well. If these strategies are ineffective, it is time to see an allergy specialist or an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat doctor) for prescription treatment.

If students at Oak Hill are feeling ill, they should see one of our campus nurses.  We are typically in the nurse’s office from 7:00 am to 9:30 pm. We are available in the dining hall during all meals. We also administer medications at that time.  A nurse also visits all of the dormitories for nighttime med call before lights out. After lights out, students should see their Resident Managers for any medical issues. There is a nurse on call for all illnesses and emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Here’s to good health, and thanks for reading!

Betsy Anderson, RN, BSN
Oak Hill Academy Nurse