You seem to have endless colds. You are constantly sneezing and coughing, or maybe just feel tired and not yourself, with itchy eyes and a slightly runny nose. Maybe you even wheeze a bit, but then it seems to go away.
It’s time to look into whether or not you have allergies.
“Unfortunately, there is a good bit of crossover between cold-like symptoms and allergic symptoms,” says Dr. Lindsey Stoltz Steadman, a board-certified allergist at Charleston Allergy & Asthma. Luckily, there are a few ways to tell the difference — and if you’re at all concerned about allergies, it’s always a good idea to pay a visit to a board-certified allergist.
So, how do I know it’s not just a cold or infection?
With allergies, you will usually experience some or all of the following symptoms: a stuffy and runny nose; sneezing; itchy, watery, red eyes; ear fullness and pressure; and post-nasal drainage down the back of the throat. (A sign of post-nasal drip is a lot of throat-clearing).
“We notice those symptoms in isolation,” Dr. Stoltz Steadman says. “So if they exist with a fever, they won’t be caused by allergies. Things like a cold, viral illness, respiratory infections — those cause fevers. Without an associated fever, muscle aches or body aches, these symptoms will likely point more toward allergy.”
Also, pay attention to when the symptoms are popping up. If you're noticing them sporadically throughout the day or year, it’s more likely to be allergies than a cold. It is very common to be allergic to indoor allergens like pet dander and dust mites so symptoms may come and go.
Another big sign is if the symptoms are happening seasonally. Spring and fall are the primary culprits, but summer is big, too, especially in South Carolina, when summer plants are flowering.
“Another thing that can go hand in hand with allergies are other diagnoses, like asthma,” Dr. Stoltz Steadman says. “Between 75 and 80% of kids with asthma also have allergies. It's important to make sure BOTH things are being addressed and controlled.”
Other signs to look out for
There are a few physical symptoms that may indicate your child or family member has allergies.
“(Kids) can get dark circles under their eyes, which are called allergic shiners,” Dr. Stoltz Steadman says. “Kids seem to be more prone to get those than adults.”
Some kids may also get a horizontal crease above their nose, called an allergic salute, that's caused by constant itching and rubbing.
What are the next steps?
“If you or your child have undiagnosed or poorly controlled allergies, you may feel sick a lot. That can cause difficulty paying attention and concentration and cause difficulty sleeping at night because you have trouble breathing or drainage, causing a cough,” Dr. Stoltz Steadman says.
To get you or your child feeling better, the first step is to visit a board-certified allergist, who will test and determine exactly what causes the allergic reactions. If your child is around age five or older, or as an adult, you may consider allergy shots. Also known as immunotherapy, it’s an individualized treatment and the closest thing to a lifelong cure.
Your allergist can also help you determine if medications like antihistamines, eye drops, or nasal sprays that can help you.
Remember that if one or both parents have allergies, a child is at an increased risk of developing allergies — but just because you're allergic to a specific type of pollen doesn't mean your child will be, too. That's why it's always important to get tested so you and your child will have individualized treatment plans.
Need guidance in treating your allergies? Reach out to Charleston Allergy & Asthma for an appointment. Their board-certified doctors have been providing allergy and asthma care in the Lowcountry for over 30 years. They have locations in Mount Pleasant, Summerville, and West Ashley. For more information, call (843) 881-2030 or visit them online.