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Woman with allergies sneezing outside from flowers, trees, weeds, and pollen

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

By Kristy Warren

 

Suffering from dry, itchy eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose? Illness might not be to blame. 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! 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.

James Biery, PA-C, Certified Physician's Assistant at Mansfield & Wellsboro Laurel Health Centers

James Biery, PA-C, a certified physician assistant with the Wellsboro and Mansfield Laurel Health Centers, sat down with the Homepage Network team to share how to tell allergies from illness, what you can do to prepare for allergy season, and the best ways to tame your seasonal allergies. 


The term “seasonal allergies” is used to refer to environmental allergens like grass, pollen, tree blossoms, and weeds that change with the seasons.

 

Indoor allergies like dust, mold, and pet dander can affect allergy sufferers all year long.

WHAT ARE ALLERGIES? 

 

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. An allergy is an immune response to something the body shouldn’t “attack,” meaning that when you have an allergy, your immune system responds 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.

 

Laurel Health provider James Biery, PA-C explains how to recognize and tame your allergies in a few simple steps in the short video below:

COMMON ALLERGY SYMPTOMS:

 

When your immune system battles an 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 start 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, your backyard, specific blooming trees or flowers)? Do your symptoms resolve after you’ve taken an antihistamine or steroid nasal spray like Flonase?

Young girl with allergies sneezing in a field of dandelions and weeds

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 ALLERGIES:

 

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 click here to sign up online. You don’t have to be an LHC patient to make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. For more information on the vaccines and how they work, click here.

 

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).

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