Every time we breathe, we inhale millions of tiny particles that are invisible unless viewed with a microscope. These particles include dust, pollen, plant spores, viruses, bacteria and even chemicals. Many of these particles, such as dust, pollen and plant spores are harmless. Viruses, bacteria and chemicals may be harmful to us.
Our nose and respiratory system filters most of these particles so they are unable to enter the body. Some of these tiny particles, however, are able to bypass the body’s filtering system. It is our immune system that protects us from the harmful particles that manage to enter the body, such as viruses, bacteria and some chemicals.
Normally, our immune system ignores the harmless substances that enter the body, such as dust or pollen. In some people, however, the immune system mistakenly thinks these substances are harmful. This mistaken immune response by the body is the basis for all allergic responses.
An allergy is a sensitivity to something that is normally harmless. Our body considers it a “foreign substance” and tries to get rid of it.
Scientists continue to study why some people have allergies and others do not.
One of the most common allergies is seasonal allergies, including “Hay Fever.” People with Hay Fever are often allergic to grasses, ragweed and tree pollens. The most common symptoms for seasonal allergies include runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing and sneezing.
Perennial allergies include dust, animal dander, feathers, indoor molds, foods — such as milk, nuts or eggs — and drugs, such as Aspirin. Symptoms of perennial allergies include skin rash, stuffy or runny nose, headache and itchy eyes. In severe cases, difficulty breathing and swelling of the throat may occur, requiring immediate medical attention.
Seasonal allergies affecting the nose and upper respiratory system are by far the most common and can easily be mistaken for a sinus infection or the common cold.
What is it?
Common Cold or Sinus Infection
Nasal obstruction and congestion
Thick nasal discharge
Facial pressure and pain
Wet, productive cough
Sore throat usual
Symptoms last 7 – 10 days
Nasal obstruction and congestion
Thin, watery nasal discharge
Itchy, runny nose
Sneezing – rapid, multiple sequence
Scratchy or itchy throat
Symptoms may last for weeks
If you are not sure if you have a cold/sinus infection or allergies, your doctor can help determine the cause of your symptoms and find appropriate treatment.
Treatment of Allergies
The best treatment for allergies is to avoid the substance that causes your allergy. Often, this is just not possible and many people have to find ways of decreasing their symptoms.
Your doctor may first want to perform skin testing or other tests to determine exactly which substances are causing your allergy.
There are many products available for treatment of allergies without a prescription. Be sure to read the labels carefully, as some of the medications cause drowsiness or other side effects that may interfere with your ability to drive or perform your usual activities. Some non-prescription medications for allergies may also interfere with other prescription medications, such as those for hypertension (high blood pressure).
Nasal sprays are also available. Those containing a salt-water solution are the safest to use to relieve mild congestion, loosen mucus and prevent crusting.
When these medications do not help, your doctor may provide a prescription medication to ease the symptoms. It is always best to consult with your doctor to determine which treatment option is best for you and your particular symptoms and situation.
Susan Spoelma, MBA, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, is the Chief Nursing Officer for Oak Valley Hospital. Look for the Health Watch column each month in The Oakdale Leader and periodically in The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times.