Published on April 28, 2022

How to distinguish between allergies and illness

Dr. Wade Swenson giving allergy medication

Is it allergies? A cold? COVID-19? Wade Swenson, MD, Otolaryngology, Ridgeview Clinics, shares, “Typically the best way to differentiate between allergies and other illnesses is to track the type of symptoms as well as the timing of their onset and duration.”

While symptoms can be year-round, the majority of allergy sufferers particularly note seasonal triggers. Dr. Swenson outlines symptoms, treatment options and shares insight on when you should see a doctor. Approximately 50 million Americans (1 in 5 individuals) suffer from environmental allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).  

Most allergy sufferers will notice the onset of symptoms with a particular season when certain types of allergens are abundant—tree pollens in the spring, grass pollens in the summer, and weed pollens and mold spores in the fall. While the severity varies from year to year due to weather-related changes to allergen counts, the allergy sufferer will tend to have the same problems each year during that particular season. 

Three management options for seasonal allergies.

There are typically three categories of management options for seasonal allergies: avoidance measures, medication management and immunotherapy.

  1. Avoidance measures. For modest symptom improvement, keep windows closed during allergy season, shower at night—this rinses the allergens off your body, change clothes after being outdoors and avoid going outside in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.

  2. Medication management. Seasonal allergies are often self-diagnosed and using over-the-counter (OTC) medication is reasonable when symptoms are mild, correlate with typical seasonal symptoms and if the symptoms respond well to this approach. See your doctor if symptoms are severe, do not respond well to OTC medications or do not fit the typical pattern for environmental allergies. Allergy testing is helpful in these situations so that your doctor can provide a more tailored management plan, such as prescription medications.

  3. Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a treatment intended to decrease sensitivity to an allergen. It involves taking a series of allergy shots, oral tablets or drops under the tongue over a period of time. This exposes your body to a low dose of the allergen, building a tolerance and resulting in fewer and less severe symptoms over time. Various tree, grass and weed pollens, dust mite and animal allergies can be treated with immunotherapy.

Can seasonal allergies develop suddenly?

“Anyone can develop environmental allergies at any point and it’s not always clear why some people develop allergies later in life,” Dr. Swenson explains. “Though, one common reason is moving from one geographic region to another.” Many allergens are regionally specific so an individual could be completely asymptomatic, but upon relocating, may begin to suffer from allergies.

“Alternatively, some adult allergy sufferers over age 50 may notice diminishing symptoms as they age. This is thought to be due to decreased immune function with aging, resulting in a less severe immune response,” he added.

Dr. Swenson works with adult and pediatric patients to offer individualized treatment options for environmental allergies, including skin testing, allergy shots and oral immune therapy allergy drops. Ready to take the next step in allergy relief?

Schedule your appointment at Ridgeview Clinics.