Chronic Allergies Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Allergies are one of the most common types of diseases that affect both children and adults throughout the world. If you suffer from allergies, you may have watery eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy skin. [1]

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Are Chronic Allergies?

Summary

The diagnosis of allergies will depend on what symptoms you have and can be confirmed by a doctor by skin or lab testing. When you have some of the following symptoms: runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, nasal itching, or watery eyes for more than one hour on most days, you likely suffer from chronic allergies. A doctor will classify your diagnosis as intermittent vs. persistent and mild vs. moderate to severe depending on the frequency and duration of your symptoms. If you have a personal or family history of asthma, you will have a higher likelihood of also suffering from allergies. You may also have a food allergy, an insect stinging allergy, or a drug allergy which may each cause hives, facial or skin swelling, cough, wheezing, itchy skin, or a rash. [3] Additionally, your doctor can confirm the diagnosis with a skin prick test or a lab test called the serum-specific IgE level [2]. To help manage your symptoms, you can avoid allergens that cause your symptoms if you have identified them or you can take medications. [1]

Recommended care

Chronic Allergies Symptoms

Main symptoms

Allergy symptoms will depend on what exactly you are allergic to but will almost always affect your upper respiratory system including your sinuses, nose, and airways. Additionally, you may have symptoms related to your skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal tract. [3] The most common symptoms include a stuffy nose with clear watery discharge, itchiness in your nose, mouth, or back of your throat, sneezing, ear infections, and watery and itchy eyes. [4] The most severe form of allergies is anaphylaxis which results in trouble breathing and swelling in your mouth and throat. If this is happening to you, you should go to an emergency room immediately. [1]

You may have allergies due to pollen, dust, or smoke which is commonly classified as hay fever. You can also have a specific food allergy, insect bite related allergy, or drug allergy. Each of these disease processes overlap in symptoms and are detailed further below. [1]

Hay fever symptoms

If you suffer from hay fever or allergic rhinitis, you may have any of the following symptoms for at least one hour several days out of the week [3]:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchiness of nose, eyes, mouth, throat
  • A runny nose with clear discharge and congestion
  • Watery, red, itchy eyes

Food allergy symptoms

If you suffer from a food allergy, you will develop many of the following symptoms when you eat a specific food [3]:

  • Hives, or raised red itchy skin welts, all over your body [5]
  • Itchiness, numbness, or tingling in your mouth
  • Swelling of your mouth, lips, and throat
  • Anaphylaxis (i.e., trouble breathing and progressively fast swelling of your mouth and throat)

Insect sting allergy symptoms

If you suffer from an insect sting allergy, you will develop many of the following symptoms when you are a stung by a specific bug [3]:

  • Swelling, pain, and edema at the site of your sting
  • Hives, or raised red itchy skin welts, all over your body [5]
  • Cough
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Anaphylaxis (i.e., trouble breathing and progressively fast swelling of your mouth and throat)

Drug allergy symptoms

If you suffer from a drug allergy, you will develop many of the following symptoms when you are ingesting that specific drug [3]:

  • Hives, or raised red itchy skin welts, all over your body [5]
  • Cough
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Anaphylaxis (i.e., trouble breathing and progressively fast swelling of your mouth and throat)

Chronic Allergies Causes

As many as 30% of adults and 40% of children in the United States suffer from allergies. [1] Allergies are caused by several different etiologies and depend on the type of allergy. [2] The specific causes of hay fever are outlined below. Food specific allergies, insect bite allergies, and drug-related allergies can be caused by a wide range of items and will be individual specific. Further testing by an allergist can help you identify the specific cause if you have a food, insect bite, or drug allergy. [3]

Hay fever causes

Common causes of hay fever include the following [2]:

  • Mites
  • Cat or dog hair
  • Pollen
  • Fungus or mold

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Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Chronic Allergies

Treatment

The best way to treat allergies is to identify what is causing your symptoms and to avoid that item. For example, if you are allergic to cats or dogs, you should avoid visiting homes or environments that have pets. If you have allergies to pollen, you should keep your windows closed during the spring and fall and use air conditioning. Furthermore, you can use bedding covers to decrease your exposure to mold and a dehumidifier to decrease mold in your home. [6] Additionally, if you have a severe reaction to a specific food or insect that you might be exposed to in your daily life, you should see a doctor who can prescribe you an epinephrine auto-injector to help prevent life-threatening manifestations of anaphylaxis. [2]

Many allergens are unavoidable, and in that setting, you can ask your doctors what medicines are safe for you. They may recommend intranasal corticosteroids, antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene pathway inhibitors, or immunotherapy. Intranasal corticosteroids can help reduce your nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, and itchiness. Be careful overutilizing the intranasal medication as it can cause irritation and bleeding in your nose. Antihistamines block the irritating chemical, histamine, that is released upon exposure to your allergen. They will help reduce your sneezing, eye/nose /mouth/throat itchiness, watery discharge, and hives. You can purchase some antihistamines over the counter such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra). Others require a prescription. Antihistamines can cause side effects such as a dry mouth, difficulty urinating, difficulty having a bowel movement, dizziness, trouble sleeping, and changes to your blood pressure. Nasal sprays or saline rinses can help decrease the drainage and blockage from your sinuses. Leukotriene pathway inhibitors such as montelukast are prescription medications that will block the inflammation process that leads to your symptoms. Immunotherapy should be reserved if you do not respond to any of the above treatments and will require a conversation with an allergy specialist. [6]

Please note, you should not take antibiotics to treat your allergies.

Prevention

The best way to prevent symptoms related to your allergies to avoid any known triggers. As mentioned in the treatment section, you should take specific precautions depending on your allergy type. If you are allergic to pollen, stay inside, close your windows, and use air conditioning especially during the spring and fall. Additionally, if you are allergic to dust, vacuum your home often and wash your bedding frequently. Importantly, you should additionally avoid smoking or exposure to smoke. [7] If you are having trouble identifying what you are specifically allergic to, you should keep an allergy diary that tracks what activities you are doing and what you are eating when your symptoms occur, improve, or worsen. This can help you and your doctor identify what is exactly triggering your symptoms.

Furthermore, if you have a severe allergy, you should wear a medical alert bracelet. This will notify others to be careful around you with a specific allergen, and it can also help them treat you quickly if you are accidentally exposed to the allergen and unable to communicate this.

Additionally, to prevent anaphylactic shock, if you have had a severe allergy in the past (e.g., severe facial swelling, trouble breathing, hospitalization), you should carry an epinephrine auto-injector. When traveling, you should teach a friend or family member that is with you how to use the auto-injector in case you are unable to self-administer the shot. [3]

When to Seek Further Consultation for Chronic Allergies

If your symptoms are not well-controlled with avoidance of your triggers and occasional utilization of over the counter medications, you should seek advice from your primary care physician or an allergist. They can help you identify what is specifically triggering your allergies, and provide you with further recommendations on how to treat and prevent your symptoms.

Additionally, if you have a serious reaction to an allergen resulting in anaphylactic shock, or swelling of your mouth, throat, face, or tongue that affects your ability to breath, you should go to an emergency room immediately. This allergy should then be documented in your medical records and you may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times.

If you experience bleeding from your nose, mucus discharge from your nose, a change in your ability to smell, or cough up bloody discharge, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. These symptoms are not related to allergies and are due to a different underlying etiology which may require a different diagnostic workup or treatment that your doctor can help you identify. [1] [6]