Allergy Season: How to Tell if It’s Allergies or Something Else

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During the early spring, runny noses and sneezing are common, but it may be hard to tell if you are suffering from allergies or something else.  While seasonal allergies are uncommon in children under the age of two, the symptoms of upper respiratory infections often mimic allergy symptoms. A viral infection, like an upper respiratory infection, should start to resolve itself after a week or two, but if your symptoms last longer or become more severe, it’s time to talk to your doctor.

Infections are also more likely to cause fever, cough, fatigue, rash, muscle or joint pain.

When allergy symptoms are triggered by the pollen in the air, the condition is referred to as seasonal allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as hay fever. The most common symptoms of an allergy are a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes. Other symptoms that your physician will look for include:

  • Allergic “shiners” – swelling under the eye, often a bit blue looking.
  • Allergic “salute” – a crease in the nose most often found in kids who are always wiping their nose.
  • High arched palate and open mouth – dental problems that can occur in young kids with severe symptoms
  • Pale nasal passages – nasal passages will be red and swollen if it’s an infection.
  • “Cobblestoning” – enlarged lymph tissue in the back of the throat. Enlarged lymph nodes in the front of the neck or white discharge from the tonsils signal infection.
  • Clear fluid behind the eardrums – the eardrums would be red with thick yellow fluid in an ear infection.

Contrary to popular belief, the color of your mucus does not indicate the need for antibiotics. Green or yellow, it only means there are immune cells (white blood cells) shed into the mucus as your body fights an infection.

If you or someone you know has been experiencing the symptoms common to seasonal allergy rhinitis or other allergic reactions for longer than two weeks, it is important to get evaluated by a physician. Chronic nasal congestion can be a sign of an allergy or a thyroid problem, but they can also develop into something more serious like a bacterial sinus infection or nasal polyps. If your symptoms don’t get better after a week or two, then your provider may prescribe an antibiotic or further testing to look for nasal polyps. Cone Health has a network of primary care, allergy/immunology specialists and related healthcare providers dedicated to treating allergies and improving the quality of life of those who suffer from the condition.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Natalie Alexander is a family medicine provider at Cone Health Primary Care at MedCenter Kernersville and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. Dr. Alexander completed medical school at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. She completed a family medicine residency at Danville Regional Medical Center.

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