How to know if your symptoms are bad enough to visit an allergist

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Photography: Budimir Jevtic (Shutterstock)

So, sneeze and rub your eyes this season allergies. Who isn’t? Allergies are common enough that many of us can manage our symptoms with over-the-counter medications and avoidance strategies such as less time outdoors on days with high pollen levels. But when are allergies severe enough that you should visit a specialist?

First of all, if you go for regular checkups with your primary care provider, you can always ask him about your allergies.. Tell them how bad your symptoms are they are and how much they affect your life, and will help you understand if a referral to an allergist makes sense. (I can also recommend a specific person to see.)

But if you’re trying to decide for yourself, here are some of the signs that you might benefit from visiting a professional.

You don’t know what you’re allergic to

One of the greatest things an allergist can do, and you can’t do it yourself, is test your reaction to dozens of common allergens at the same time. This is not just like one of those blood tests that are ordered by mail rather useless. Instead, allergy testing is usually done with a skin prick. The provider will draw a small grid on your arm or back, and apply a small amount of the substance to each spot and sting your skin. There are sets of tests for pollen, pet dandruffand other common allergens. If you are allergic to one of the items in the test, you will have a skin reaction.

Other types of legal allergy tests according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), include challenge tests, where you ingest a small amount of suspicious food under supervision, and IgE blood tests (not related to IgG tests for mail order)).

For skin tests, you will get the results immediately (the test takes about 20 minutes). An allergist can then advise you on what to do for allergies that have been identified — if you need to wear Epi-Pen, for example, or if you need to use certain prescription or over-the-counter medications, they will talk to you about it.

They can also provide other strategies to help you Avoid and agree with allergens in your life. For example, my allergist recommended pillowcases and mattresses as part of a mite allergy management strategy. I never thought those covers would probably be that useful, but I finally paid off for them based on her recommendation, and my symptoms got many better.

You have asthma too, and it’s getting worse

Allergists also specialize in asthma. Both conditions involve the immune system, and people who have asthma are often prone to allergies. Consider visiting a specialist if you feel signs of severe asthma, whether they occur along with allergies or not. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) identifies these as:

  • Whistling or coughing, especially at night or after exercise
  • Struggling to catch your breath
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest or shortness of breath

Breathing difficulties are bad for you regardless of the cause, and asthma symptoms can overlap with those of other heart and lung diseases. If you are unable to visit an allergist in the near future, share these concerns with any doctor you may visit.

Your allergies or asthma seriously affect your daily life

If you occasionally sniff when it’s pollen season, you probably don’t need the help of an expert. But the ACAAI recommends that you see someone about your allergies if:

  • Your seasonal allergies last for months of the year
  • Over-the-counter medications are not enough to control your allergies
  • Over-the-counter medications control your allergies, but only when you take enough to make you feel sleepy all the time or otherwise have unacceptable side effects.
  • Your allergies cause chronic sinus infections, congestion, or difficulty breathing
  • Your asthma or allergies seriously affect your daily life.

If you have already been to an allergist, but your symptoms have worsened since then, it is worth coming back. For example, if you are already taking asthma medication but have frequent asthma attacks, it is a sign that you need to see someone.

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