Do I Have Allergies? Decoding Seasonal Sniffles and Sneezes

Did you know that nearly one-third of American adults have allergies? They’re not always minor inconveniences either; we’re talking about the full gamut of irritating symptoms—sneezing, congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, and relentless itchiness. Ever wonder why allergies exist in the first place, or why they can suddenly emerge, seemingly out of nowhere? Let’s get into the world of allergies, unraveling the mysteries behind these common yet perplexing conditions. 

Allergies: What Triggers Them and How They Affect You

The immune system is like your body’s security guard, always on high alert to shield you from harmful invaders. Allergies occur when this system mistakenly identifies a typically harmless substance or food as a dangerous intruder. In response to this perceived threat, your immune system goes into overdrive, producing antibodies that tag these allergens as harmful. This triggers the release of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, leading to the release of histamine, a chemical that causes the telltale signs of an allergic reaction: swelling, irritation, and runny nose.

Figuring out the differences between allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities can be tricky since these terms are often used interchangeably. However, they refer to distinctly different issues:

  • Allergy: An allergy is the immune system’s overreaction to a substance that’s usually harmless, known as an allergen. Allergic reactions range from mild symptoms such as sneezing and itching to severe, life-threatening anaphylactic shock, which requires immediate medical attention.
  • Intolerance: Intolerance primarily affects the digestive system, occurring when the body struggles to digest certain foods properly. Symptoms can include gas and bloating. Unlike allergies, food intolerances are rarely life-threatening but can be highly uncomfortable. A common example is lactose intolerance, where the body cannot digest lactose.
  • Sensitivity: The term sensitivity is broader and may encompass both allergies and intolerances. It’s often used to describe adverse reactions that have unclear causes. Sensitivities don’t always directly involve the immune system and can trigger a variety of symptoms that vary widely between individuals and substances.

Why Do Allergies Exist?

The exact reasons why allergies develop remains somewhat of a mystery. However, multiple factors are thought to play a role in causing allergic reactions. One of these factors is genetics. Allergies tend to run in families. If your parents or siblings have allergies, you’re more likely to have them too. 

Environmental exposure is another significant factor. This includes everything from the air you breathe to the food you eat and the substances you come into contact with. Certain environments may expose individuals to more allergens, like pollen or pet dander, increasing the likelihood of developing allergies.

The hygiene hypothesis is also cited as a potential factor in allergy development. This theory suggests that not being exposed to enough germs in early childhood could make someone more likely to develop allergies. Both the hygiene hypothesis and vaccines highlight the idea that exposing the body to certain elements is essential for training your immune system. The hygiene hypothesis emphasizes natural exposure to a variety of environmental agents to prevent immune system disorders, while vaccines focus on deliberate exposure to specific pathogens to prevent infectious diseases. 

Deciphering Your Symptoms: Allergies, Seasonal Changes, or Something Else?

Determining the root cause of your symptoms—be it allergies, seasonal shifts, or other health conditions—can be tricky given the overlap in symptoms. But by tuning into your unique symptoms and patterns, you can zero in on what’s actually causing your discomfort. Here’s how to figure out if allergies are at the heart of your issues.


Some allergies flare up during particular times of the year, like spring or fall, while others may be present year-round but worsen with increased exposure. Your allergy symptoms persist as long as you remain in contact with the offending allergen.

Seasonal Changes

The body’s reaction to changes in temperature, humidity, and light can mimic cold-like symptoms, such as coughs and sore throats. It can also cause skin dryness and mood shifts. In winter, indoor allergens like dust, mold spores, and pet dander prevail, while spring sees a rise in outdoor allergens. 

Other Health Concerns

More severe symptoms such as fever, body aches, significant fatigue, shortness of breath, or persistent cough could indicate infections like the flu or COVID-19, or chronic conditions such as asthma or COPD. Unlike allergies, colds or flus often include a low-grade fever.

Still Unsure of Your Symptoms?

What are the key differences? Allergy symptoms are typically more predictable and occur with exposure to specific allergens. Meanwhile, fever and body aches often wave red flags for infections or deeper health issues. When symptoms do not respond to over-the-counter remedies and lifestyle adjustments, it’s a sign that something more serious may be at play. If you’re still confused, it’s time to reach out to a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

How Do Allergy Tests Work?

If you think you might have allergies, start tracking your symptoms and potential triggers. Keep a daily log of any allergic reactions, from skin flare-ups and respiratory difficulties to gastrointestinal discomforts, and assess the severity of these symptoms over time. Document your whereabouts and activities at the onset of these symptoms, whether it’s soaking up nature, interacting with pets, or exploring new or familiar locales, to accurately pinpoint potential triggers.

For food and drink allergies, maintain a detailed log of your meals and their timing to uncover hidden allergens within your diet. Document environmental conditions like pollen levels, air quality, and exposure to chemicals. Over time, this diary can help you identify patterns or links between your activities, environmental exposures, and symptoms.

If you think it’s time for an allergy diagnosis, here are the methods to consider:

  • Skin Testing: This includes the prick or scratch test, where a potential allergen is introduced to the skin’s surface, and the intradermal test, which injects a small allergen sample under the skin.
  • Blood Testing: This test measures the levels of IgE antibodies specific to different allergens in your blood.

Once you know you have allergies, the goal is to avoid allergens through various strategies, including environmental adjustments, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications. Medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, eye drops, and leukotriene receptor antagonists can help manage symptoms. 

If you’re grappling with severe allergies, immunotherapy (allergy shots) may offer a promising path towards relief from debilitating allergic reactions. Implementing rigorous home cleaning routines, using air purifiers, and regulating humidity levels are also effective strategies for reducing exposure to prevalent allergens like dust mites, pet dander, and mold. If you’re allergic to certain chemicals, check and dispose of any home cleaning or personal care products containing them. For emergency situations, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) is recommended.

From Surviving to Thriving: Transforming Your Allergy Experience

Transitioning from merely surviving to thriving with allergies is entirely feasible. You can drastically improve your quality of life by simply identifying your allergies and implementing avoidance strategies. For those aware of their allergies, regular consultations with a primary care provider who specializes in allergies is invaluable. These visits ensure that your condition is closely monitored and that adjustments are made as needed, enabling you to face your allergy journey with confidence and resilience.

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Stay healthy and active with the care of your local preventive primary care practice. Schedule your appointment today!

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Take the next step towards protecting your health, and your life.

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    Take the next step towards protecting your health, and your life.

    Schedule An Appointment

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