Is It a Cold or an Allergy?
|General Aches, Pains||Slight||Never|
|Itchy Eyes||Rare or Never||Common|
|Duration||3 to 14 days||Weeks (for example,
6 weeks for ragweed or grass pollen seasons)
Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Testing for Allergies
Knowing exactly what you are allergic to can help you lessen or prevent exposure and treat your reactions. There are several tests to pinpoint allergies:
- Allergy skin tests—Allergy skin testing is considered the most sensitive testing method and provides rapid results. The most common test is the “prick test,” which involves pricking the skin with the extract of a specific allergen, then observing the skin’s reaction.
- Serum-specific IgE antibody testing—These blood tests provide information similar to allergy skin testing.
For allergy sufferers, the best treatment is to avoid the offending allergens altogether. This may be possible if the allergen is a specific food, like peanuts, which can be cut out of the diet, but not when the very air we breathe is loaded with allergens, such as ragweed pollen. Air purifiers, filters, humidifiers, and conditioners provide varying degrees of relief, but none is 100 percent effective. Various over-the-counter or prescription medications offer relief, too.
- Antihistamines. These medications counter the effects of histamine, the substance that makes eyes water and noses itch and causes sneezing during allergic reactions. Sleepiness was a problem with the first generation of antihistamines, but the newest drugs do not cause such a problem.
- Nasal steroids. These anti-inflammatory sprays help decrease inflammation, swelling, and mucus production. They work well in combination with antihistamines and, in low doses for brief periods of time, are relatively free of side effects.
- Cromolyn sodium. A nasal spray, cromolyn sodium can help stop hay fever, perhaps by blocking release of histamine and other symptom-producing chemicals. It has few side effects.
- Decongestants. Available in capsule and spray form, decongestants thin nasal secretions and can reduce swelling and sinus discomfort. Intended for short-term use, they are usually used in combination with antihistamines. Long-term usage of spray decongestants can actually make symptoms worse, while decongestant pills do not have this problem.
- Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) might provide relief for patients who don’t find relief with antihistamines or nasal steroids. They alter the body’s immune response to allergens, thereby helping to prevent allergic reactions. Current immunotherapy treatments are limited because of potential side effects.