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March 29, 2019

Medical Director Q & A: All About Allergies

By Dr. Lou Romig

How can you tell the difference between a cold and allergies?

It can be very difficult to distinguish allergies from a viral cold, as both can cause coughing, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, headaches and even red teary eyes. If symptoms include fever, muscle aches, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, swollen glands or red eyes with colored discharge, it usually means the symptoms are caused by an infection. If the only symptoms are those associated with allergies, antihistamines (allergy medicines) can sometimes help, even if the cause is a viral cold.

What are pollen and mold, and where do each originate?

Pollen and mold are common causes of allergic reactions, mostly through contact with eyes, noses, throats and lungs.

Pollen particles are produced by plants during their reproductive cycles. One of the most common trouble-causing pollen is oak tree pollen, which is often produced in massive quantities in the late winter and spring. Pollen is responsible for “seasonal allergies” in much of the spring season.

Mold is tiny fungi that can be found both inside and outside our homes. Most fungi thrive in warm, wet environments, such as those found in areas of water leaks inside homes. Molds grow year-round and are called “environmental” allergens.

allergies

What are some tips for keeping allergies under control?

  • Change A/C air filters every month.
  • If allergies are caused by dust, dust mites and other indoor triggers, consider using allergy barriers on pillows and mattresses, and get new pillows about once a year.
  • Keep dust-catchers like stuffed animals out of children’s beds.
  • Avoid carpeting and draperies in bedrooms, unless they are vacuumed and cleaned frequently.
  • Keep pets out of the beds of people who may have allergies.
  • If allergies are caused by pollen and outside triggers, leave shoes at the entrance to the home so the pollen isn’t tracked all throughout the house. Consider keeping book bags, backpacks, sports equipment, etc. out of the main parts of the house too.
  • Give indoor and outdoor pets frequent baths to help keep them from bringing allergy triggers into the home.
  • If individuals have been outside for prolonged periods of time during allergy season, they might need to bathe or at least change to fresh clothes when they come home.
  • People with severe allergies should wear face masks when outside or avoid going outside as much as possible.
  • Know what times of the year cause you allergy symptoms. Start daily allergy medications at the beginning of those seasons instead of waiting for the symptoms to appear. Talk to your primary care physician about what medicines to use during allergy seasons.

Can seasonal allergies be cured?

If allergy tests pin down specific allergy triggers (seasonal or environmental), immunotherapy is sometimes successful in eliminating or minimizing allergic reactions. Immunotherapy often consists of a series of shots, with oral immunotherapy rapidly becoming more available.

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