How to diagnose allergies, and what are your treatment options
It's allergy season in Texas, and almost everyone around you is reaching for the box of tissues. Allergies are not fun! Stuffy, congested, itchy eyes and constant sneezing seem to be the most common self-diagnosed symptoms of the conditions, but not everyone reacts to allergens the same way. Knowing what and how it affects you could be the first step to finding a treatment.
Is it allergies or the common cold?
Before grabbing that bottle of allergy meds, be sure you have allergies. The body's reaction to the common cold virus - Nasal or chest congestion, coughing/wheezing, sinus infections, etc.- is similar to as its exposure to a high pollen count, for example. One rule of thumb is how long the symptoms last. If you can't get rid of that nagging cough after ten days (usually the length of a common cold), you may need to test for allergies.
Other common symptoms of allergies, especially in Texas, include:
- Nasal congestion (stuffy and/or a runny nose)
- Nasal polyps
- Chest congestion
- Coughing and/or wheezing
- Respiratory symptoms like chronic coughing or recurring bronchitis
- Itchy and/or watery eyes
- Conjunctivitis (eye irritation)
- Itchy skin
- Eczema or other skin rashes
- Frequent ear infections
- Sinus headaches
- Vomiting/cramping/diarrhea after eating certain foods
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Severe reactions to insect stings, more extreme than just swelling at the site of the sting
- Allergy-induced asthma
- Cognitive symptoms like confusion, slowed thinking, depression, and/or forgetfulness
Kinds of allergies
Allergies can broadly be divided into three categories:
As the name suggests, seasonal allergies are specific to a certain time of the year. They are caused by airborne particles like pollen, mold, or dust and can be predicted to occur around the same time each year. Seasonal allergens in Texas are mainly produced by trees and plants and their blooming period:
- Pecan trees (in-season between mid-March and June)
- Oak trees (in-season between mid-February and mid-May)
- Mulberry trees (in-season between mid-February and mid-April)
- Ash trees (in-season between February and mid-April)
- Elm trees (in-season between February and late March)
- Mountain Cedar (in-season in December and January)
- Ragweed (in-season between mid-summer and mid-November)
- Grasses like Bermuda or Kentucky blue (in-season between March and mid-October)
Environmental allergies are harder to predict and tend to be triggered by the carrier all year round. Examples include mold, dust, cockroaches or fire ants, pet dander, and dust mites. While some, like dust, may be harder to avoid, others are easier to avoid. For example, houses with pets are a no-no for those who don't have their animal dander allergies under control
Food Allergies are often mistaken for intolerance to a certain kind of food like gluten and dairy. However, the same food type almost always causes true food allergies.
- Tree nuts
You have allergies. What next?
If your symptoms spell allergies, the next step would be to get tested by an allergist. The doctor will prick or scratch the skin on your back or forearm with a drop of an FDA-approved liquid version of different allergens. After about 15 minutes of waiting, you may be allergic to the substance if the site shows a bit of redness or a bump that looks like a mosquito bite. Those that cause raised irritation are severe enough that medical treatment may be necessary. Blood tests are also available, but the scratch test is quicker, painless, and often more reliable.
What are your treatment options?
Allergy treatment has come a long way, and there are medical interventions to ensure you don't have to live with yours.
The first step in controlling your allergies is to manage your exposure to the triggers. For example, avoid animals if you are allergic to dander, or opt for the lactose-free dairy version if your body doesn't agree with traditional dairy. Over-the-counter medicines may provide some relief, but they only treat symptoms, not the cause itself. If neither option works, maybe it is time to consider medical treatment through Allergy drops or shots.
Allergy Drops or Shots - what's right for you?
Sublingual immunotherapy or drops are administered daily under the tongue. The body absorbs these small amounts of allergens and builds up a tolerance, causing the symptoms to reduce or disappear altogether. It may sound like a no-brainer, but since this method is not FDA-approved, your insurance may not cover it.
If you have health insurance, allergy shots are the way to go. They work on the same principle as the drops and are administered weekly or bi-weekly by your healthcare provider.
No matter how you choose to tackle your allergies, there is an option that works for you!
If you have a question about current health issues, come see us, we will help you make informed decisions about your health.
Please call us at 214-467-3832 or schedule your appointment using our online scheduler.