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Allergies Are Nothing to Sneeze At: Finding Relief from Seasonal Allergies

by Kristy Warren - April 27, 2021

As we welcome spring, seasonal allergies are out in force. From flowers and grasses to budding trees, there’s a lot of new allergens to make us sneeze! James Biery, a physician assistant with the Wellsboro and Mansfield Laurel Health Centers, joins us to share how you can tell allergies from illness and what you can do to prepare for allergy season.

Suffering from dry, itchy eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose? A cold might not be to blame. While severity varies, it’s estimated that upwards of 50 million Americans experience some form of allergic rhinitis—an inflammation in the lining of the nose caused by allergies. The term “seasonal allergies” is used to refer to environmental allergens like grass, pollen, tree blossoms, and weeds that change with the seasons, and indoor allergies like dust, mold, and pet dander can affect allergy sufferers all year long.

WHAT ARE ALLERGIES?

An allergy is an immune response to something the body shouldn’t “attack.” Our immune system is designed to protect us from harmful foreign substances like illness-carrying germs. It protects us by identifying the danger and developing antibodies to combat it. When you have an allergy, your immune system responds this same way to a substance that isn’t typically harmful, like ragweed, cat hair, dust, or tree pollen. During your previous encounters with the allergen, your immune system branded it as a harmful foreign substance and created antibodies designed to attack it.

COMMON ALLERGY SYMPTOMS

As your immune system battles the allergen, it releases chemicals that cause a wide array of uncomfortable symptoms. The most common allergy symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Scratchy throat
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Runny nose or postnasal drip
  • Nasal congestion
  • Clogged ears

ALLERGIES VS. COVID-19

With Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases still widespread, you may be feeling anxious about every cough or sneeze. Both COVID-19 and allergies affect the respiratory tract (the path air takes through your nose, mouth, throat, and lungs), so how can we tell the difference between seasonal allergies and a respiratory illness like COVID-19? While both can make you cough, they present with different key symptoms.

Common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, chills, and dry cough, meaning you aren’t bringing up any mucus when you cough. COVID-19 symptoms can develop over a longer incubation period (up to 14 days) and its symptoms may get worse over time. By contrast, seasonal allergies do not present with a fever, chills, or intestinal issues, and do not cause dangerous difficulty breathing unless they are very severe. The biggest differentiators for allergies are a) feeling itchy—itchy eyes, throat, mouth, or skin—and b) how quickly your symptoms present when you’re exposed to an allergen (no extended incubation period).

If you’re trying to determine if you’re allergic to something, look carefully at the onset of your symptoms and ask yourself if your symptoms are persistent all day long or change based on where you are and what you’re doing. Do your symptoms begin when you step outside or are exposed to a specific thing (e.g., a dog or cat, blooming trees, your backyard)? Do your symptoms resolve after you’ve taken an antihistamine or steroid nasal spray like Flonase? If you start sneezing around the first week of May every year, chances are you are allergic to a plant that is blossoming during that time. If your eyes always get itchy after petting your neighbor’s cat, you are likely allergic to the cat’s dander.

HOW TO MANAGE ALLERGY SYMPTOMS

Mild-to-moderate seasonal allergies can often be well-managed with over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal sprays, and decongestants, but each person responds to allergy medications differently. For these medications to be most effective, they need to be used routinely. If your allergies are seasonal, it’s also helpful to begin treatment a few weeks ahead of your allergy season (e.g., if you know May is a challenging time for your sinuses every year, start your allergy medication by mid-April). Finding the right medication for your sinuses may take some trial and error or an expert opinion. For those who want to reduce their use of allergy medication or have uncontrolled allergies, you may be a candidate for allergy shots or drop therapy. Your provider will walk you through your treatment options and help you decide the best fit for you. If you’re concerned about potential allergies or having trouble managing them, the Laurel Health Centers can help. All Laurel Health locations offer in-person and flexible telemedicine visits via phone and video chat to meet your health needs safely.

Please note: If you’re experiencing any of the COVID-19 symptoms listed in the allergies vs. COVID-19 section, you should call your provider right away for guidance. Even for milder COVID-19 cases, it is important to get the right diagnosis in order to plan your treatment, determine your risk for developing complications, and protect others in your household and community by isolating to avoid spreading the virus. Laurel Health is available 24/7 to answer your health questions, review symptoms, schedule appointments, and provide COVID-19 testing (including rapid tests) as needed. If you are 16 and up, you are also now eligible to schedule your COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to you. Everyone is encouraged to schedule their vaccine for effective, lasting protection. To schedule your vaccine, call the Laurel Health Centers at 1-833-LAURELC (1-833-528-7354) and select the center of your choice, or visit laurelhc.org to sign up online. You don’t have to be an LHC patient to make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

WHEN TO CALL YOUR PROVIDER

The Laurel Health Centers are here to help you identify and manage your allergies through safe, effective treatment that’s personalized to your allergy needs. You should call your family medicine provider if:

  • Your allergies are uncontrolled and making you miserable; Laurel Health can help you find an effective treatment plan to better manage your symptoms
  • You’re unsure you have allergies or what specifically you’re allergic to and want to confirm
  • You’re concerned it might not be allergies and need to rule out sinus infections, COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses
  • Over-the-counter medicines don’t seem to be working well to control your symptoms or you want to cut back on your use of those allergy medications
  • You want to discuss long-term symptom relief options like allergy shots or allergy drop therapies

James Biery, PA-C specializes in family medicine and ears, nose, and throat issues. To make an appointment with James, call 570-724-1010 (Wellsboro) or 570-662-2002 (Mansfield). To learn more about allergies and how to treat them, visit laurelhc.org.

Credits:

Idea/Concept: Laurel Health Centers
Videography: Andrew Moore
Video Editing: Andrew Moore
Writing: Kristy Warren
Anchor: Sara Vogt
Guest(s): James Biery

Produced by Vogt Media
Home Page Sponsors: Laurel Health Centers