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Five things to know about allergies

Family Health
Apr 2, 2019

St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care Physician Dr. Russell Lake answers some common questions about allergies

Daylight is now lasting longer, the temperature is near perfect and the azaleas are blooming, but all you can do is sneeze and rub your itchy eyes. Yay spring!

For many, seasonal allergies are an annoying reality every spring. Pollen not only covers our cars but enters our airways making life miserable.

Dr. Russell Lake, St. Joseph's/Candler Primary Care Physician in PoolerRussell Lake, MD, FAAFP, is a primary care physician with the St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care located in Pooler. With more than 50 million Americans experiencing allergies each year, Dr. Lake is no stranger to treating the condition. He answers five common questions about allergies.

1. What is an allergy?

An allergy is an exaggerated immune response to something that the body has identified as foreign, known as an allergen, explains Dr. Lake.

“We can have allergic reactions to most anything to which the body is exposed or that enters the body, including foods, medications, chemicals and things in the air,” says Dr. Lake. “Some allergies are merely inconvenient while others can be life threatening.”

Related Article: Five common food allergies and substitute options

Typically when we talk about allergies, especially this time of the year, we are referring to Allergic Rhinitis, commonly called hay fever, which is a reaction to respiratory allergens that trigger a response in the nose.

Respiratory allergens are categorized in two groups: seasonal and perennial, Dr. Lake explains. Seasonal allergies include pollens of grasses, trees and weeds. Perennial allergens are present without regard to the season, such as dust mites, animal dander, fungi and mold.

2. What are some common symptoms of allergies?

People with allergies can have different reactions. The common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Running nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Nasal drainage into the throat
  • Cough, especially at night
  • Sore throat, especially in the morning

Some people may also experience fatigue, Dr. Lake adds, because of disrupted sleep due to the above symptoms. Others may experience ongoing headache to the forehead.

3. Can anyone get allergies?

Anyone at any age can develop an allergy though it’s most common in children and young adults, Dr. Lake says.

“We are not born with an allergy; the allergic response actually requires a prior exposure to the allergen,” says Dr. Lake. “However, some people are more prone to developing allergies than others such as those with family members who have allergies, asthma and/or eczema.”

4. How do I know if it’s allergies or a cold?

Distinguishing between allergies and a viral upper respiratory infection is difficult, even for healthcare professionals, Dr. Lake says. Repeated and/or prolonged symptoms, especially in a pattern, suggest allergies as the cause.

Dr. Lake says allergy testing is generally not needed with mild symptoms that are able to be effectively treated with medications or other modalities. However, if symptoms are severe or affecting the quality of life allergy testing is available.

5. So, how do you treat allergies?

Your primary care physician can help determine what might be triggering your allergies and potentially how to avoid those triggers. If a medication would be helpful, your doctor will discuss those options, which include nasal steroids, nasal and oral antihistamines and leukotriene inhibitors, and which might work best for you.

Looking for a primary care doctor in your area? Visit our Physician Network website to find a physician near you. 

Coming Thursday: Allergic to certain bug bites? Family Nurse Practitioner Caitlin Young talks about different insect, snake and spider bites and when and where to seek treatment.

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