5 Things You Need to Know About Allergies

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Allergies can be both unpredictable and inconvenient.

Whether you are dealing with seasonal issues or year around nuisances, there are various factors that affect your sinuses. Climate change will potentially lead to both higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons, causing more people to suffer more health effects from pollen and other allergens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pollen is like tiny seeds dispersed from flowering plants, trees, grass and weeds. The amount and type of pollen in the air depends on the season and geographic region. Though pollen counts are typically higher during the warmer seasons, some plants pollinate year-round.

“Allergies are more than a $6 billion industry so it is an essential topic that affects many people,” said Nicholas Groch, a board-certified ear, nose and throat physician at Oswego Health in Oswego.

1. Myths

When it comes to allergies, because people have various reactions, there are common misconceptions that experts attempt to dispel. For example, doctors deal with patients coming into their office with self-diagnosis.

Nicholas Groch, a board-certified ear, nose and throat physician Oswego Health in Oswego.

“They will come and say all they need is antibiotics and they will be fine,” said Groch. “The problem is that not every situation requires antibiotics. There can be dire, life-threatening consequences for people who take antibiotics for conditions that do not match their symptoms.”

Another misconception surrounds allergy tests. Even though a given patient may be tested for more than 60 different environmental and food allergens, testing negative doesn’t mean the situation is resolved.

“All your tests could come back that you are not allergic to these substances but there could still be various allergens within those elements that you are allergic to. It doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to find answers,” said Groch.

2. Symptoms

Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance or a food that doesn’t cause a reaction in most people. While symptoms can vary, there are some common ones including itching of the nose, eyes or roof of the mouth, along with watery, red or swollen eyes and overall congestion.

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, occurs when allergens like pollen enter your body and your immune system mistakenly identifies them as a threat. If you have allergic rhinitis, your body then responds to the allergen by releasing chemicals that can cause symptoms in the nose. Symptoms of allergic rhinitis can occur during certain seasons or year-round, depending on the allergen and affect as many as 60 million people per year in the United States.

Symptoms from allergic rhinitis include sneezing, runny nose, and congestion.

When determining what else can be done to eliminate allergy symptoms, Groch has some baseline advice.

“One of the excellent options is to use saline nasal spray. It is relatively inexpensive and doesn’t require a prescription,” he said.

3. Diagnosis and treatment

Various allergy diagnosis and treatments can lead to many different diagnoses. Environmental allergies are diagnosed by proper history-taking, examination and allergy testing. Treatments may include medications such as non-sedating antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays and allergy shots.

Food allergies are diagnosed with proper history-taking, examination and allergy testing. Treatments include avoidance, and certain types of food allergies may necessitate carrying an epinephrine auto injector pen and having an allergy action plan. For patients with particular types of food allergies, there are also newer treatments, including oral immunotherapy. In addition, patients can misdiagnosis themselves.

“One way to determine between a sinus infection or simply allergies is that in a sinus infection there is thick, yellow nasal drainage versus clear runny nose when we are dealing with allergies,” said Groch.

4. Consult experts

Allergy experts believe the field and symptoms are growing exponentially so they advocate for allergy sufferers to consult a professional. Simply pointing to your family history or self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary trial and error.

“Allergy medication can be taken at any time of the year where you have symptoms or you can wait until those symptoms develop when you become stuffy, runny or sneezy,” he added.

5. Allergies and COVID

A runny or stuffy nose, cough, tiredness, even shortness of breath and a lack of smell and taste can occur in both allergies and COVID-19. But a cough from COVID-19 is typically dry, whereas in allergies, a cough is wet and usually more sneeze-like.

“This is one of the reasons why we tell our patients to consult with their primary care or specialist physician. Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and allergy can, on the surface, be the same but they are very different,” he added.