5 Things You Need to Know About Allergies

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Allergies can be both unpredictable and inconvenient.

Whether you are dealing with seasonal issues or year around nuisances, there are various factors that affect your sinuses. Climate change will potentially lead to both higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons, causing more people to suffer more health effects from pollen and other allergens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pollen are tiny seeds dispersed from flowering plants, trees, grass and weeds. The amount and type of pollen in the air depends on the season and geographic region. Though pollen counts are typically higher during the warmer seasons, some plants pollinate year-round.

“Multiple factors may contribute to environmental allergies occurring later in life. Factors such as moving to a different area in the world can trigger allergies, along with new pets and age-related immune system changes,” said physician Emily Weis, who holds dual appointment in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s department of pediatric allergy and immunology as well as the department of allergy, immunology and rheumatology.

1. Myths
There are myths about allergies ranging from the idea that you can’t outgrow allergies to the lack of awareness on treatment options. Weis said she has dealt with many others including common myths about pets.

“There are myths that say ‘my dog has short hair, so it does not cause allergies.’ But in reality, we can be allergic to other components of the dog, including dander and saliva. A short-haired dog can still be allergenic,” she said.

Another myth involves flu season. “In years past, patients with egg allergies may have been advised not to get their influenza vaccine. However, given our current evidence-based information, patients with egg allergy can receive the influenza vaccine,” said Weis.

Specific precautions may be advised depending on the patient history, so patients should check with their health care provider. Patients with a history of reaction to the influenza vaccine itself should have an allergy consultation.

2. Symptoms

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, occurs when allergens like pollen enter your body and your immune system mistakenly identifies them as a threat. If you have allergic rhinitis, your body then responds to the allergen by releasing chemicals that can cause symptoms in the nose. Symptoms of allergic rhinitis can occur during certain seasons or year-round, depending on the allergen, and affect as many as 60 million people per year in the United States. Symptoms from allergic rhinitis include sneezing, runny nose and congestion.

“Regardless of concerns about the type of allergy which may be food, drug or environmental, patients should first consult with their primary care physician. If input from an allergist is needed, a referral to a board-certified allergist is the best course of action,” said Weis.

3. Allergies and COVID-19

A runny or stuffy nose, cough, tiredness, even shortness of breath and a lack of smell and taste can occur in both allergies and COVID-19. But a cough from COVID-19 is typically dry, whereas in allergies, a cough is wet and usually more sneeze-like.

“If a patient with underlying environmental allergies contracts COVID-19, their baseline nasal congestion, eye symptoms and post nasal drip may be amplified in the setting of the infection,” said Weis. “Additionally, it may sometimes be hard to discern mild COVID-19 symptoms from allergic symptoms. So it is important to contact your health care provider with concerns.”

4. Diagnosis and treatment

Various allergy diagnosis and treatments can lead to many different diagnoses. Environmental allergies are diagnosed by proper history taking, examination, and allergy testing. Treatments may include medications such as non-sedating antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays and allergy treatment shots.

Food allergies are diagnosed with proper history taking, examination and allergy testing. Treatments include avoidance, and certain types of food allergies may necessitate carrying an epinephrine auto injector pen and having an allergy action plan. For patients with particular types of food allergies, there are also newer treatments, including oral immunotherapy.

Drug allergies are diagnosed with proper history taking, examination, and allergy testing.

“For patients with multiple drug allergies on their allergy list, we recommend they meet with a board-certified allergist to determine if there are medications that may not need to be avoided, or could be tested and safely re-introduced,” said Weis.

5. Consult experts

Allergy experts believe the field and symptoms are growing exponentially so they advocate for allergy sufferers to consult a professional. Simply pointing to your family history or self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary trial and error.

“The field of allergy is rapidly expanding,” added Weis. “There are new methods for evaluation and new treatments available. We recommend that patients who have not had their current allergies evaluated or have developed new allergies discuss referral to a board-certified allergist with their primary care provider.”

Physician Emily Weis currently practices clinical allergy & immunology for pediatric and adult patients. She holds dual appointment in the URMC’s department of pediatric allergy and immunology as well as the department of allergy, immunology and rheumatology.