May 3, 2021
We sat down with MDLIVE Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cindy Zelis to ask your top five questions about what causes allergies, how to recognize the symptoms, and what treatment options are available to you.
The short answer is pollen. The small spores from trees, grass, and flowers enter your nose, and your immune system senses “danger” and goes into protective mode. Antibodies are released to attack the allergens, which leads to a release of chemicals called “histamines” into the blood. Those histamines trigger the symptoms you associate with allergies. You can usually monitor the pollen forecast in your area on weather or news websites to see how your area and what times are most affected.
There are many common systems that come along with allergies. Symptoms include runny nose, watery or itchy eyes, sneezing, and coughing. Many people will say they feel “congested,” which can be a very uncomfortable symptom that impacts your day-to-day life. Of course, you may also experience similar symptoms for ailments that are unrelated to allergies, so it’s not always simple to figure out what’s causing your problem. Things such as a fever are not related to an allergy, so you should get attention from your health care provider.
If you aren’t sure what might be causing your symptoms, a doctor can help narrow down the likely cause and assess if allergies are the likely culprit. Even if you know you have seasonal allergies, symptoms can range from mild to severe. If you are experiencing more severe symptoms and over-the-counter remedies are not helping, a doctor can discuss other treatment options with you, ranging from prescription medication to allergy shots.
If you have had seasonal allergies before and your symptoms are familiar, it is likely you are experiencing allergies again. But if you are new to allergies or your symptoms are different than usual, here are a few things to look for. First, are you experiencing a fever, chills, or shortness of breath? If so, those are unlikely to be allergy symptoms, and you should consult a doctor. Second, are you sneezing or have a runny nose? Those symptoms rarely occur with COVID-19, so it would suggest allergies are more likely.
There are a lot of allergy prevention suggestions out there. But to keep things simple, I recommend focusing on three things. First, check pollen forecasts and take your allergy medication before the pollen hits. Second, stay inside on dry, windy days. Rain helps keep pollen from making its way into your nose. And third, keep your indoor air filtered. Good filters will help trap allergens to keep them away from you. The reality is that despite your best efforts, you may still experience symptoms that require medication to manage.
If you’ve tried over-the-counter remedies and can’t find relief, a virtual visit with an MDLIVE doctor can help get you the treatment you need so you can feel better faster.