You Should See A Doctor For Your Allergies If:
- your allergy symptoms occur at the same time every year or seem to last year-round
- your allergy symptoms last only as long as you are exposed to a particular substance
- your allergy symptoms occur only when you are at work or school
- you have any respiratory illness that lasts longer than a week or two
You need emergency help at once if you have any of the following symptoms after being exposed to a substance you might be allergic to:
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- swelling of the lips, tongue, or mouth
- chest pain and tightness
- shock or sudden loss of consciousness
- hives, itchy skin, or joint swelling
- widespread, intense skin redness
- nausea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps
It Is Important To Get Treatment For Your Allergies
Waiting for your allergies to go away probably won't help. Most allergies get worse rather than better without proper diagnosis and treatment, and treatment for allergies can help you feel better.
Some people avoid treating allergies. One reason is they fear medication will make them sleepy. Your doctor, though, can recommend prescription medications that can help control your allergy symptoms without making you sleepy. Another option is allergy shots, called immunotherapy. These shots can be effective for 9 out of every 10 people with seasonal allergies and for 70% to 80% of those who have year-round, or perennial, allergies.
While uncomplicated nasal allergies aren't life-threatening, they can make you miserable and affect many aspects of your life. For people who have asthma, nasal allergies sometimes trigger other, more serious complications, such as asthma attacks. There is also some association between nasal allergies and nasal polyps.
Distinguishing Allergies From Other Illnesses
Like many people, you may find it difficult to tell whether your symptoms are caused by allergies or a cold.
You also need to remember that your runny or stuffy nose and other symptoms may not be caused by an allergy or even a cold at all. A number of other factors, such as irritants, infections, injuries, or deformities of the nose, can cause symptoms similar to allergies. Knowing what's causing your symptoms is important since treatment differs for different conditions. The right diagnosis and early treatment of your allergies can also help prevent potentially serious complications of allergies from developing. These include nasal polyps, ear infections, sinusitis, and asthma.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Written by Karen Serrano, MD Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD
Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine
Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University
Board certified in Allergy and Immunology
Last updated June 2008