Watery eyes, itching, burning eyes, runny nose, constant sneezing. Allergy symptoms are no fun. Allergies make us feel uncomfortable, irritated and downright miserable.
If you have an allergy, your immune system is overreacting to a substance you’ve inhaled, touched, or eaten, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
So, we wanted to know everything about allergies: what is the best way to fight them? Why do we get them? How to differentiate allergy symptoms from COVID-19 symptoms?
We put your questions directly to Dr. Richard Wasserman, Medical Director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Medical City Children’s Hospital in Dallas, Texas.
When is allergy season?
“Allergy season depends on where you live in the United States,” Wasserman said. “Here in Dallas, allergy season kicks off in late December or early January and really picks up a lot by mid-February. Most people feel better in the hot summer months when things aren’t pollinating much. In the north, the season starts later, but the grass season lasts all summer because it never gets hot enough to stop pollination.”
Why do I have allergies?
“Allergies are hereditary. People inherit the ability to be allergic, but they don’t inherit exactly what they’re allergic to,” Wasserman said. “So people who have one parent with allergies have about a 50% chance of developing allergies. If both parents have an allergic disease, it’s about 80%.”
What is pollen and how can it affect me?
Pollen is the material that carries the genetic material of a plant and it is how plants reproduce.
“Pollen is distributed by the wind. The pollens that are distributed by the wind are the things that really bother us because they carry through the air and land in our noses and eyes and cause us problems.” Click here to check the pollen count in your area.
How long do allergies last?
“It depends on the patient and what stimulates them. In most cases, especially with pollen, the same pollen is active day after day, so you might not notice such a big difference from one day to day during the season,” says Wasserman.
What are the common symptoms of allergies?
A number of different allergens are responsible for allergic reactions, according to AAAAI.
The most common include:
• Insect bites
• Pet dander
“Typical allergy symptoms are stuffy, runny, itchy, sneezing,” Wasserman said. “Stuffy nose, difficult nose breathing, clear and runny nose, itchy nose, itchy eyes, sometimes itchy ears and excessive sneezing.”
What is hay fever?
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is usually triggered by outside allergens such as pollen and mold spores.
“Rose fever, hay fever are sort of household names for allergy. Hay fever is probably mostly caused by mold,” Wasserman said. “Mildew is another thing that people get allergic to. Mold likes to grow in moist environments like haystacks or barns, so that’s the association there.”
How do I know if it’s allergies or COVID-19?
“Allergy never causes fever. Allergy usually causes itchy eyes and nose. And eye and nose symptoms are very important. But there are features of COVID-19 that are not seen with an allergy or at least not quickly Very severe and very prolonged allergies may have an alteration in their sense of smell or taste due to swelling of the nose But with COVID-19, the alteration of smell and taste taste begins very early in infection.
How to get tested for allergies?
Different allergens bother different people, so your allergist will determine which test is best for you.
“One of the simplest, fastest and cheapest allergy tests are skin tests. They take a very dilute solution of the allergic substance and just place it in the top layer of the skin,” says Wassermann. “It’s slightly uncomfortable, but the discomfort only lasts a few seconds, then it’s over. Then it takes about 20 minutes for the skin to react to the allergy test. Then you read the allergy test by judging the size of the mosquito bite-type reaction and which usually subsides in 30-60 minutes.”
How can I relieve my allergies?
The best thing for allergies is to avoid them. So if the pollen count is really high, avoiding going outside can be helpful. Medications are also helpful.
“There are a number of over-the-counter medications that are very effective in treating allergies,” Wasserman said. “But the best long-term allergy management is injection therapy or allergy shots.”
Do allergy shots really work??
Allergy shots work like a vaccine. Your body responds to injected amounts of a particular allergen, given in gradually increasing doses, by developing immunity or tolerance to the allergen. There are two phases: the construction phase and the maintenance phase.
“There are different ways to do this, but allergy shots include buildup, which usually takes several weeks,” Wasserman said. “And then maintenance which usually takes monthly injections for three to five years. Then once you’ve had a response and gone through the standard schedule, you quit and almost everyone stays better once you stopped.”
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