It’s been a few weeks since the official start of spring. You may have noticed warmer weather, sprouting plants, and an unfortunate side effect – dreaded allergy symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 60 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies each year.
Allergy symptoms are a reaction to foreign substances, such as pollen or dust mites, that your body may encounter. In an attempt to fight these foreign substances, your body releases chemicals that cause reactions that can lead to:
— Postnasal drip cough
— Nasal congestion or runny nose
— Clear your throat
— Itchy and watery eyes
— scratch or sore throat
— Asthma symptoms (shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, chest tightness)
Cold, COVID-19 or allergies?
People often confuse allergies with a spring cold, which isn’t surprising because the symptoms can be very similar. Allergy symptoms usually come on suddenly and last longer than a cold. Other differences between allergies and the common cold include:
— Allergies do not cause fever
— Allergies are not contagious
— Itchy and watery eyes are more common with allergies
If you think something more serious than allergies or a cold is happening, you should rule out COVID-19. Yes, COVID-19 cases are decreasing, but the virus remains a threat to the health of our communities. It is important to know how to distinguish COVID-19 from allergies or the common cold. With COVID-19, you might experience a new loss of smell or taste, muscle aches, fatigue, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These are all symptoms that are probably not due to allergies or a cold.
If you think you have COVID-19, it is important to self-isolate immediately and contact your healthcare provider.
Treating Allergy Symptoms
The first step is to avoid the things you’re allergic to and try over-the-counter antihistamines. If that doesn’t work, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following options:
— Prescription antihistamines — Most antihistamines are now available over the counter, but some are still only available by prescription.
— Nasal sprays — Medicines that reduce swelling in the nose, which causes a stuffy, runny, and itchy nose.
— Inhalers — Medicines inhaled into the lungs that open your airways. Inhalers can include daily use or rescue inhalers used for immediate symptom relief.
— Allergy injections or immunotherapy — A series of injections to desensitize your immune system to the allergens that trigger your symptoms. The goal of treatment is to retrain the immune system to recognize the allergen as harmless, decreasing the frequency or severity of allergy symptoms.
Allergies can be unpleasant, but your doctor can help you determine what triggers your allergies and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. If you have allergy-like symptoms that last longer than ten days, it’s time to make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
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Nathaniel Hare, MD, is with UPMC Allergy and Immunology and sees patients at UPMC Williamsport, Divine Providence Campus, 1705 Warren Ave., Suite 303, Williamsport. To make an appointment with Dr. Hare, call 570-320-7070. For more information, visit UPMC.com/AllergyNCPA.