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Symptoms of Allergies: When to Contact a Doctor

Symptoms of Allergies: When to Contact A Doctor

Allergies are immune responses to harmless substances that the body interprets as a threat. With allergies, the body means well, but it is overreacting. Particles that cause these immune system responses are called allergens and the body's immune system produces histamines to help the body usher allergens out.

Symptoms of allergies such as sneezing, coughing, itching, or tearing up are a body's way of expelling the allergen from your system. Symptoms of allergies can be highly irritating, especially because the trigger isn't actually harmful.

Extreme overreactions, known as anaphylaxis, can cause severe skin reactions, hypotension, constriction of airways, swollen tongue or throat, a rapid yet weak pulse, dizziness, or fainting. Anaphylaxis can be fatal. Seek immediate medical attention if someone is experiencing severe allergic reactions. Specific allergens known for anaphylaxis include certain foods (e.g. peanuts), insect venom (e.g. bee stings), certain medications, and latex.

Types of Allergies

There are many different allergens and many different reactions to them. Broadly described, allergies fall into one these categories:

  • Respiratory and Eye Allergies. Harmless airborne particles such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold spores are amongst the most common allergens. Pollen allergies alone affect over 25 million Americans. The susceptible parts of the eyes and nose are affected in a similar fashion because they are made of the same type of skin. Signs of allergies in the eye or respiratory track might include seasonality. Pollen allergies often affect people in the summer, whereas dust mite and mold allergies might affect people more in the fall or winter.

    Symptoms of allergies in the respiratory tract include sneezing; itchy or painful nose, throat and roof of mouth; stuffy or runny nose; postnasal drip; nasal congestion; fatigue; or increased ear pressure.

    Eye allergy symptoms can include redness of the eye; swelling of blood vessels and eyelids; tearing; burning sensations; or blurry vision.

  • Food Allergies — Nearly all people experience undesirable reactions to a food at some point in their lifetime, but only 4% of the total population has a food allergy. How do you know if you have a food allergy or food intolerance/sensitivity? A food allergy involves an immune response, compared to a food intolerance or sensitivity that simply means the body cannot or has difficulty digesting a specific substance. With a food intolerance no immune system reaction occurs, however some symptoms of a food intolerance can be similar to symptoms of allergies.

    To properly diagnose a food allergy, a doctor visit is warranted. Their diagnosis might be based exclusively on dietary and reaction history of the patient, or might include skin tests, blood tests, or a double-blind food challenge.

    Common food allergens include milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, fish, shellfish, sulfites, and soy. Food allergies are best mitigated by avoiding any foods that cause symptoms of allergies.

  • Injections (e.g. insect stings)
    Certain insect bites and stings cause normal reactions in people (e.g. mosquito bites) that are not allergenic. Symptoms of allergies relating to insect injections can include mild symptoms such as pain, redness, swelling well beyond the sting site, warmth, and itchiness; and severe anaphylactic symptoms including wheezing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, hives or other severe rashes, rapid pulse, sharp drop in blood pressure, and severe swelling (generally of the face, mouth, throat, or tongue).

  • Drug Allergies
    Some people are allergic to certain drugs. The most common example is penicillin. Other common examples include certain antibiotics, insulin, anti-seizure drugs, sulfa drugs, and barbiturates. Symptoms of allergies related to drugs are similar to other types of allergies and include: hives, rash, congestion, swelling, itchiness, and other symptoms. Drug allergies are often diagnosed by skin tests.

  • Skin Allergies (Atopic Dermatitis)
    Allergens that affect the skin might include nickel, cosmetic products, plant oils such as poison ivy or poison oak, leather, latex, citrus fruits, sunlight, or fragrances. Most commonly the symptoms of allergies on the skin are limited to rashes, hives, itchiness, peeling or flaking. Similar to other allergies, these symptoms arise from an immune response to a harmless substance.

    Some skin reactions might appear to be signs of allergies, but don't involve an immune response and thus are not allergenic. An example is irritant contact dermatitis, where an irritant removes protective oils from the skin, which subsequently results in a rash or similar symptom.

Symptoms of Allergies

Symptoms of allergies vary depending on what type of substance causes an allergic reaction. Most allergens affect the body by being breathed, ingested, absorbed, or injected into the body. As such, allergies often affect the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, or skin. General signs of allergies might include:

  • Sneezing
  • Rash or hives
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Tongue swelling
  • Allergy cough
  • Throat closing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Feeling faint
  • Allergy headache

Can allergies cause fever?

Allergic Rhinitis is sometimes called hay fever. However, symptoms of allergies relating to allergic rhinitis do not include an actual fever (body temperature above 100.4 degrees F). Instead, symptoms of allergies related to allergic rhinitis include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy eyes, roof of mouth, nose or skin
  • Conjuctivitis (watery, red, swollen eyes)
  • Sneezing
  • Possible fatigue as a complication of nasal obstructions

Although fever is not a typical symptom of allergies, an allergic reaction could lead to acute sinusitis, which could in turn result in a fever. Furthermore, allergies might leave you susceptible to a bacterial or viral infection, which could later induce a fever. Can allergies cause fever? Only indirectly as a complication of other symptoms.

Can allergies cause sore throat?

One of the symptoms of allergies is postnasal drip, which causes congestion in the sinuses and drainage of extra mucus into the the throat. This can result in a sore throat from allergies. A scratchy and raw sensation is common with a sore throat from allergies due to particulate allergens lining the throat. Usually this sensation is absent from sore throats caused by cold or flu and can help identify a sore throat from allergies.

Can allergies make you cough?

The potential irritation of the throat from postnasal drip can also cause an allergy cough. A cough from allergies is more likely to be worse when lying down because mucus can't drain as easily.

An allergy cough can also be caused by asthma, which is the tightening of airways in response to an allergen.

Can allergies cause headaches?

Migraines and sinus headaches are two types of headaches that are associated with allergies. Cluster headaches tend to occur seasonally in the spring or fall, but they are not related to allergies and are often misidentified as an allergy headache. Sinus headaches are also commonly misidentified as allergy headaches; many people with self-diagnosed sinus headaches are actually experiencing migraines.

Allergy Headache: What is the difference between migraines and sinus headaches?

A migraine usually has severe throbbing on one side of the head, and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can also have prodrome, aura, attack, and postdrome phases that can distinguish a migraine from an allergy headache. Although it is not fully understood what causes migraines, they have been linked to allergies.

A sinus headache occurs when the sinus cavities (hollow spaces located inside each cheekbone and behind the eyes, nose, and forehead that exchange air and mucus) become swollen and their openings are obstructed. This results in pain about the face where the clogged sinuses are located.

Can allergies cause dizziness?

Allergies can result in complications that lead to dizziness. When exposed to an allergen, sinus congestion and postnasal drip might clog or obstruct the Eustachian tubes. These hollow tubes connect the middle ear to the nasal cavity, regulate pressure, help drain fluids and contaminants from the middle ear, and help regulate balance. When the Eustachian tubes become obstructed, a person may experience occasional loss of balance or even vertigo.

Lightheadedness can also be one of the signs of allergies. Lightheadedness and dizziness differ in that dizziness describes a spinning sensation whereas lightheadedness describes feeling faint, although both are possible symptoms of allergies.

Can allergies make you tired?

Symptoms of allergies include a hazy, tired, feeling of fatigue that can cause difficulties focusing throughout the day. This feeling of fatigue results from allergens that cause inflammation, inflammation then produces cytokines, and cytokines alert the brain that the body is sick. If the immune system is continually triggered in this fashion, chronic fatigue can result.

There are complications of allergy symptoms that also result in tiredness. Sinus pressure, postnasal drip, and congestion of the nasal passage, can cause discomfort making it difficult to get a good night's rest.

Medicines, such as antihistamines, can also have side effects of tiredness and fatigue. This includes decongestants such as Sudafed (psedoephedrine).

Eye allergy symptoms

Allergies that affect the eyes, known as allergic conjuctivitis or ocular allergy, occur when an allergen irritates to conjuctiva (a thin membrane over the eye and inside of the eyelid). Similar to other signs of allergies, eye allergies commonly result from airborne allergens such as pollen, mold spores, pet dander, and dust mites.

Swollen eyes from allergies
When histamines are released into the bloodstream after exposure to an allergen, swelling of the blood vessels in the eye can occur resulting in swollen eyes from allergies along with redness, itchiness, grittiness, and tears. Further symptoms of allergies in the eye include swollen eyelids, soreness, and sensitivity to light.

When to Contact a Doctor

It is extremely important to seek immediate medical attention if someone is experiencing a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Such reactions are life-threatening, and you should not wait to see if symptoms dissipate.

Mild cases of allergies might not require a doctor and may be treated with over-the-counter medications, or not require treatment at all. Contact a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Chronic sinus infections, congestion, or difficulty breathing.
  • Symptoms of allergies several months out of the year.
  • If over-the-counter treatments do not help, or cause undesirable side-effects.
  • Asthma or allergies inhibit day-to-day activities or quality of life.
  • Warning signs of serious asthma attacks such as: difficulty breathing, wheezing or coughing, or tightness in the chest.

Medicine for allergy relief can cause side effects and complications when combined with other drugs. Talking to a doctor before taking over-the-counter medications won't hurt; they might help you choose what medication is best for you. It is particularly important to contact a doctor before using allergy medicine when:

  • Pregnant or breast-feeding
  • Chronic health conditions exist such as glaucoma, diabetes, osteoperosis, high blood pressure, etc.
  • Taking other medications
  • Treating allergies in a child
  • Treating allergies for elderly patients
  • Current allergy medicine isn't working

A visit with a doctor or allergist might include:

  • Allergy testing
  • Education
  • Prescriptions
  • Immunotherapy, which is a treatment that periodically injects allergens with the goal of desensitizing the body, resulting in relief.

If you think you might have an allergy or need medical advice on managing symptoms of allergies, call or book online with PlushCare to set up a phone appointment with a top U.S. doctor today. To learn more about allergy testing, click here.

Read more of our Allergy series:

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Ryan Quinn

Ryan Quinn

Ryan has a background in geochemical research and enjoys writing on technical subjects like health and science. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT and can be found recreating in the local mountains.

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