TIPS FOR PREVENTING/MANAGING ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA
HOW CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HAVING A COLD AND HAVING ALLERGIES?
Some allergy symptoms like congestion are also common with colds, so a lot of people have a hard time telling the difference between them. In fact, a recent survey found that nearly half of allergy sufferers (49%) find it difficult to differentiate allergies from a cold.
It also found that one-third of patients (33%) think sneezing, runny nose and congestion must signal a cold – but that’s a misconception. It’s important to understand the differences between allergies and colds, so you can get the most appropriate treatment and find the relief you need.
One of the biggest differences is duration. Cold and flu symptoms are finite and run their course in about 7-10 days. Meanwhile, allergies can wax and wane or just persist all the time. Allergies can also be more prevalent at certain times of year – so if you find yourself sniffling and sneezing at the start of spring each year, it’s probably time to see an allergist for a proper diagnosis.
Also, symptoms like itchy eyes/nose/ears are typically associated with allergies, not colds. Meanwhile, colds can involve symptoms like a sore throat and slight fever that aren’t as common with allergies. Allergy secretions also tend to run clear, whereas cold secretions may be more yellow/mucousy.
HOW ARE ALLERGIES DIAGNOSED?
Allergy diagnoses are made by board-certified allergists, based on a patient’s medical history, a physical exam and the results of an allergy test. Allergy tests are typically done as skin tests where the surface of the skin is pricked or scratched with tiny amounts of common allergens. When a scratch test cannot be performed, a blood test can also be done.
Many people may have a suspicion of their triggers based on their allergy symptoms occurring during certain times of year or around specific things like a dog or fresh-cut grass. If your symptoms are more year-round, it might be more challenging for you. But keeping a mental diary can help an allergist diagnose your triggers along with either a scratch test or blood work.
HOW CAN PEOPLE FIND OUT WHAT THEIR ALLERGY TRIGGERS ARE?
Allergy tests detect a patient’s sensitivity to common allergy triggers, such as pollen, dust mites, animal dander, and mold. If you are sensitive to a certain allergen, you may develop redness, swelling or itching at the test site. Once the test is complete, your allergist can tell you what your individual allergy triggers are and give you advice on ways to avoid them in your daily life.
WHAT ARE THE BEST TREATMENTS FOR ALLERGIES?
I consider the cornerstone of treating allergies to be a mix of a 24-hour oral antihistamine, an intranasal corticosteroid, and some sort of allergy eye drop. For my patients, I often recommend over-the-counter antihistamines like Allegra (which offers fast, non-drowsy relief) and Xyzal (which relieves allergies all night and all day, so you can get a better night’s sleep and have more productive day) or nasal sprays like Nasacort (which offers relief of nasal allergy symptoms like congestion). If allergic asthma is an issue, an asthma medication like an inhaler may be needed, as well. It’s important to learn about your options and find what works for you, so you can take back control.
WHY DO SOME ALLERGY SEASONS TEND TO BE WORSE THAN OTHERS?
The reality is that allergy season is getting worse each year with higher pollen levels, due in part to climate change – and this year is no different. Warmer temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere help plants grow and produce pollen, which then trigger allergy symptoms.
Essentially, the moisture of winter followed by warmer longer days with more sunlight lead to early and vigorous pollination, which then leads to intense pollen levels when full-blown spring hits. So even if spring is “delayed,” you’re still going to experience those dreaded symptoms.
WHAT ARE SOME HOUSE CLEANING TIPS FOR INDOOR ALLERGIES?
First, when cleaning your house, it’s a good idea to wear a face mask and gloves to avoid contact with allergens as you go. It’s also important to wash your bedding weekly in hot water to help get rid of dust mites. In addition, I recommend using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which will help ensure allergens stay sealed within the vacuum instead of blowing them back into the air.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ASTHMA?
Common asthma symptoms include coughing, difficult breathing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing (although it’s important to know that even if wheezing is not present, asthma can still be the diagnosis). Nocturnal cough is also a classic symptom of asthma, especially in children.
CAN A PERSISTENT COUGH BE A SYMPTOM OF ALLERGIES?
Absolutely. A cough from a cold or virus should clear up in a couple of weeks. But if your cough persists or shows up consistently or in a pattern like every night in bed or each spring, it’s likely caused by an allergy.
WHAT CAUSES ASTHMA?
Asthma can be caused by exposure to allergens like pollen. Asthma can also be caused by nonallergic factors like stress, exercise, changing seasons and temperature changes, including humid or cold weather. Asthma can also have a genetic component like all alllergic conditions.
ARE THERE THINGS I CAN CHANGE IN MY LIFE TO REDUCE THE RISK OF ASTHMA?
Yes, you can reduce your risk by not smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke at all costs. Also, see a board-certified allergist who can help you identify your triggers, so you can minimize your exposure and start effective treatment. Compliance with your asthma plan and medications is so essential, too!
WHAT KIND OF TESTS WILL I NEED TO MONITOR MY ASTHMA?
Your doctor can provide you with a peak flow meter, which can give you a daily and as-needed snapshot of how you are doing. Keeping a symptoms diary and documenting triggers, along with breathing tests your doctor can do in the office, will all help your doctor assess how your asthma is doing and identify the best treatment approach.
Read Dr. Ogden’s answers to your ‘Text Tom’ questions on the next page.