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Allergies: causes, symptoms, and treatments

Allergies are immune system reactions to harmless substances, causing symptoms like sneezing, itching, and congestion. Whether it's the seasonal pollen that sets off your sneezing fits or specific foods that trigger discomfort, understanding allergies is essential for taking control of your well-being.

Common allergy symptoms

Common symptoms of allergies can vary depending on the type of allergen and the individual's sensitivity, but some general symptoms include:

  • Sneezing

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Itchy or watery eyes

  • Coughing

  • Wheezing

  • Skin reactions

  • Fatigue

  • Headache

  • Sore Throat

  • Shortness of breath


It's important to note that these symptoms can range from mild to severe. If you suspect you have allergies or experience severe symptoms, it's recommended to consult a St. Joseph Health primary care provider for proper diagnosis and management.

Triggers and causes of allergies

  • Pollen

  • Dust mites

  • Pet dander

  • Mold spores

  • Insect stings and bites

  • Certain foods

  • Certain medications

  • Latex

  • Household chemicals

  • Smoke

  • Certain fabrics

  • Cold air

  • Certain plants


Allergy treatment

The treatment of allergies depends on the severity of symptoms and the specific type of allergy. Here are some common approaches to treating allergies:

  • Allergen avoidance: The first step is to identify and avoid the allergen that triggers your symptoms. This might involve making changes to your environment, diet, or daily routines to minimize exposure.

  • Medications:

    • Antihistamines: These drugs can help relieve symptoms like sneezing, itching, and runny nose by blocking the effects of histamine, a chemical released during allergic reactions.

    • Decongestants: Decongestant nasal sprays or oral medications can reduce nasal congestion by narrowing blood vessels.

    • Corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory medications are available as nasal sprays, inhalers, creams, or oral tablets to reduce inflammation and control symptoms.

    • Leukotriene modifiers: These medications help control allergic reactions by blocking the action of certain chemicals in the body.

    • Epinephrine: For severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) may be prescribed. It rapidly reverses symptoms and buys time until emergency medical help arrives.

  • Immunotherapy: Allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy) or oral tablets (sublingual immunotherapy) can gradually desensitize your immune system to specific allergens, reducing the severity of allergic reactions over time.

  • Nasal irrigation: Rinsing your nasal passages with a saline solution can help relieve nasal congestion and flush out irritants.

  • Allergy-proofing your home: Taking measures such as using allergen-proof bedding, keeping windows closed during pollen seasons, and using air purifiers can help reduce allergen exposure.

  • Natural remedies: Some people find relief from allergies through natural remedies like using saline nasal rinses, consuming local honey, or using herbal supplements. However, consult your St. Joseph Health primary care provider before trying any natural remedies.

  • Consulting a specialist: If your allergies are severe or not responding to over-the-counter medications, consider seeing an allergist or immunologist. They can perform tests to identify specific allergens and recommend appropriate treatment.

  • Lifestyle changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help manage allergies. Adequate hydration, a balanced diet, regular exercise, and managing stress can support your immune system and overall well-being.


It's important to work with a St. Joseph Health primary care provider to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific allergies and needs. Allergy treatment aims to alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life, and reduce the risk of complications from allergic reactions.

Allergic reaction prevention

Preventing allergies involves minimizing exposure to allergens and adopting certain lifestyle practices. While complete prevention may not always be possible, these strategies can help reduce the risk of allergic reactions:

  • Identify allergens: Determine the specific allergens that trigger your reactions through allergy testing. This knowledge allows you to take targeted preventive measures.

  • Allergen avoidance:

    • Environmental allergens: Minimize exposure to pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander by keeping your living spaces clean, using air purifiers, and regularly washing bedding and curtains.

    • Food allergens: Read food labels carefully, inform restaurants about your allergies, and prepare meals at home to have better control over ingredients.

  • Pet allergies: If you're allergic to pets, consider non-allergenic or hypoallergenic breeds. Regular grooming and keeping pets out of certain areas in your home can also help.

  • Pollen control: Stay indoors during high pollen seasons, keep windows closed, and use air conditioning with clean filters to reduce exposure to outdoor allergens.

  • Hygiene practices:

    • Personal hygiene: Wash your hands frequently, especially after being in public places or touching potential allergens.

    • Nasal irrigation: Use saline nasal rinses to clear nasal passages of allergens.

    • Shower before bed: Shower and change clothes before going to bed to remove pollen and other allergens from your body and hair.

  • Allergy-proofing your home: Use allergen-proof bedding, regularly clean carpets and upholstery, and consider using HEPA filters in your vacuum cleaner and air purifiers.

  • Avoid tobacco smoke: If you smoke, quitting is important. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, as it can exacerbate allergic reactions.

  • Outdoor precautions: When outdoors during allergy seasons, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, and consider wearing a hat to prevent pollen from settling in your hair.

  • Medication compliance: If prescribed allergy medications, take them as directed by your St. Joseph Health primary care provider to manage symptoms effectively.

  • Immunotherapy: Consider allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots or tablets) as recommended by your doctor. This treatment can help reduce your sensitivity to specific allergens over time.

  • Healthy lifestyle: Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants, staying hydrated, and getting regular exercise can support your immune system and overall health.

  • Consult a specialist: Work with an allergist or immunologist to develop a personalized prevention plan based on your specific allergies and needs.


By implementing these measures, you can significantly reduce allergen exposure in your home, creating a healthier and more comfortable living environment for yourself and your family.

Everything you need to know about allergy testing

Allergy testing is a valuable tool for identifying specific allergens that trigger your allergic reactions. Here's what you need to know about allergy testing:

  • Types of allergy tests:

    • Skin prick test: Small amounts of allergens are applied to your skin through tiny pricks. If you're allergic, you'll develop a small raised bump at the test site.

    • Blood test (Specific IgE Test): A blood sample is taken and tested for the presence of allergen-specific IgE antibodies.

  • When to consider allergy testing:

    • Persistent symptoms: If you experience persistent allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, itching, or congestion, despite attempts to avoid potential triggers.

    • Severe reactions: If you've had severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) and want to identify the trigger.

    • Unclear allergies: If you're unsure about the cause of your symptoms and want a definitive diagnosis.

  • Preparing for testing:

    • Medications: Some medications (antihistamines, certain antidepressants) can interfere with test results. Your doctor might ask you to stop taking them before the test.

    • Medical history: Be prepared to provide detailed information about your symptoms, triggers, and family history of allergies.

  • The testing process:

    • Skin prick test: The allergist places small amounts of allergens on your skin, usually on your forearm or back. After a short time, they'll look for any reactions.

    • Blood test: A blood sample is taken and sent to a lab for analysis. Results are usually available within a few days.

  • Interpreting results:

    • Positive reaction: A raised bump or high levels of allergen-specific IgE antibodies indicate an allergy to the tested substance.

    • Negative reaction: Absence of a reaction or low IgE levels suggest no allergy to the tested substance.

  • Limitations:

    • False positives/negatives: Allergy tests aren't foolproof. False positives (reacting to something you're not allergic to) and false negatives (not reacting to something you are allergic to) can occur.

    • Clinical correlation: Test results should be interpreted in the context of your medical history and symptoms.

  • Allergen panels: Allergists often use panels of common allergens based on your symptoms and history. They might customize the panel to include specific allergens relevant to you.

  • Follow-up: Once allergens are identified, your doctor will help you develop an allergy management plan, which may include allergen avoidance, medications, or immunotherapy.

  • Immunotherapy consideration: If your allergies are severe or difficult to manage, immunotherapy (allergy shots or tablets) might be recommended to desensitize you to specific allergens.

  • Consult a specialist: It's important to undergo allergy testing under the guidance of a qualified allergist or immunologist who can interpret the results accurately and provide appropriate recommendations.


Allergy testing can provide crucial information for effectively managing your allergies and improving your quality of life. Consult an allergist to determine if allergy testing is appropriate for you and to discuss the best approach for your specific situation.

Allergy season timeline

Allergy season typically occurs during spring, late spring to early summer, and late summer to fall. The specific timing varies based on the types of allergens, such as tree pollen in spring, grass pollen in late spring to early summer, and weed pollen in late summer to fall. However, the exact timing and severity of allergy seasons can also be influenced by factors like climate and geographic location. It's advisable to monitor local pollen forecasts and consult with a St. Joseph Health primary care provider for accurate information about allergy seasons in your area.

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