Your immune system is your body’s defense against infection and illness. When it senses a foreign invader, like bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, your immune system springs into action. When the intruders are allergens such as pollen or pet dander, your body releases histamines, the chemicals that cause allergies, and their accompanying symptoms that are annoying for millions of sufferers worldwide.
For some of these allergy sufferers, histamines can also trigger asthma attacks and hives.
However, the common cold causes your body to produce a similar response that can be confused with an allergy. Distinguishing between the two can help you avoid the complications and dangers of an acute allergic reaction.
If you have an allergy, your immune system overreacts to things most people’s bodies find harmless. According to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, about 30% of adults and 40% of children in the United States are affected by at least one allergy.
There are many different types and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. An allergy can also be seasonal, like hay fever, or year-round, like a pet allergy. Some people are allergic to certain foods, while others might be allergic to bee stings or latex.
What Are the Most Common Allergens?
There are many different types of allergens, but the most common include pollen, dust mites, pet dander and certain foods. Specifically, the most common food allergens include eggs, milk, shellfish, soybeans and peanuts. A pollen allergy can result from tree pollen, grass pollen, and reactions to weed pollen, such as ragweed.
An allergy to medication can be particularly dangerous. Patients can suffer a severe reaction to medication such as penicillin that is meant to treat their medical condition.
How Do You Know if You Have an Allergy?
Some allergy symptoms such as a runny nose are similar to those exhibited by patients dealing with the common cold. Distinguishing between the two requires carefully looking at all symptoms and potentially consulting with your doctor.
The Common Cold and Its Symptoms
The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that can cause a number of symptoms, including runny nose, congestion, sneezing, sore throat, and cough. These symptoms typically appear two to three days after exposure to the virus and can last for up to two weeks.
In most cases, the common cold is a mild illness that does not require medical treatment. However, it can sometimes lead to more serious health problems, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
Distinguishing an Allergy From the Common Cold
There are several ways to test for an allergy. Skin prick tests are the most common type of allergy test. They involve placing a small amount of the allergen on the skin and then pricking the skin with a needle.
If you are allergic to the substance, you will develop a raised, itchy bump within 15 minutes. Blood tests are another option and can be used to test for an allergy to substances that cannot be safely placed on the skin, such as food allergens. However, blood tests are not as accurate as skin prick tests and usually require multiple rounds of testing to confirm an allergy.
Conducting a differential diagnosis to determine whether you’re suffering from an allergy or the common cold involves carefully looking at the symptom progression. If you start to exhibit skin rashes or difficulty breathing, your illness may be due to an allergen rather than a cold virus.
If you think you may have an allergy, it is essential to see an allergist for testing. An allergy can often be managed through avoidance of the allergen and the use of medication.
Allergic Reaction Symptoms
The most common symptoms of an allergic reaction include itching, swelling and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, anaphylactic shock can occur, which is a potentially life-threatening condition.
If you think that you or someone else is having an allergic reaction, remove the person from the allergen’s presence and seek medical attention immediately. With proper treatment, most people with an allergy can manage their symptoms and live normal, healthy lives.
How to Manage Allergic Reactions With Medication
Antihistamines are the most common type of allergy medication and can be taken orally or nasally. They work by blocking the action of histamines, which are released during an allergic reaction. Decongestants can also be helpful in relieving congestion and pressure associated with an allergy.
For more severe reactions, corticosteroids may be necessary. These drugs work by reducing inflammation and can be taken orally, nasally or topically. Consulting with an allergy specialist will ensure that you receive the best medication for your specific case.
Immunotherapy for Your Allergy
If you have an allergy, your body produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies bind to the allergen and trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals, including histamine.
Immunotherapy is a treatment that can help to reduce the severity of an allergy by desensitizing the immune system to the allergen. It involves exposing the body to small amounts of the allergen over time. This can be done through injections, oral tablets or a spray.
Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment and it may take several months or years before you see significant improvement in your symptoms. However, it is generally safe and effective, and it can greatly improve your quality of life if you suffer from an allergy. (1)
Tips for Avoiding Allergic Reactions
Prevention is a helpful tool for minimizing the effects of an allergy. With a few simple steps, you can avoid allergic reactions.
First, it is important to avoid exposure to potential allergens. For example, if you have a dust allergy, you should try to keep your home as clean and dust-free as possible. If you have a food allergy, you should carefully read labels and avoid eating any foods that contain the allergens you are sensitive to.
Second, it may be vital to carry epinephrine with you at all times in case you have a severe reaction. Epinephrine is a medication that can help to reduce the symptoms of an allergic reaction and can even be lifesaving in some cases.
Finally, it is important to see an allergist for testing and treatment if you suffer from frequent or severe allergic reactions. By having the proper medication on hand and through immunotherapy, it is possible to minimize the risk of allergic reactions.
When to See a Doctor for Your Allergy
The common cold is easily mistaken for an allergy, at least at the outset of a reaction to an allergen. If symptoms start to deviate from those of the common cold and become more severe, it may be time to speak with an allergy specialist. Furthermore, if the reaction is severe, immediate medical care may be necessary for avoiding a potentially life-threatening situation.
If you experience any allergy symptoms that are making it difficult to breathe or causing your throat to swell, it is important to seek emergency care as soon as possible. These are signs of a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, and it can be fatal if not treated promptly.
If you have any concerns about your allergy, or if over-the-counter medications are not providing relief, schedule an appointment with an experienced allergist. They can help to determine the cause of your allergy and develop a treatment plan to help you feel your best. (2)
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