Finding Relief: Who to Talk to When Allergies Strike
From the moment you’re born, your body is constantly adapting to the world, driven by things like your genetic makeup and surrounding environment. One not-so-pleasant way it can change is by developing seasonal and food allergies. At nearly any point in your life, your body can mistakenly identify an everyday substance like ragweed or peanuts as something harmful. As a result, the immune system ramps up, producing antibodies that attack the substance’s cells. This releases something called histamines, which are what cause the sniffling, coughing, water eyes and other allergic reaction that can seemingly come out of nowhere!
So how do you get ahead of this chain reaction? By being able to spot the telltale signs of a new allergy developing—for newborns all the way through adulthood—and knowing where to go to get qualified, appropriate care and advice.
How and When Allergies Develop
Children don’t develop seasonal allergies until they are at least 12 or 15 months. Irritants at home like dust mites can be an early asthma trigger for toddlers (ages 1-3), but a lot of the time those kinds of allergies won’t appear until they start school around the age of five. When it comes to food allergies, they are most common in babies and adolescents, but can appear at any age and be inherited from a parent. Some of the most common childhood allergens include:
- Mold and mildew
- Dust mites, hair and fur
- Pollens, plus insect bites and stings
- Tobacco smoke and car exhaust
- Staple foods like peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish
For adults, the reasons behind a new allergy is a little harder to pin down. However, major life events like moving in with a cat owner or moving to a more humid climate may cause dormant allergies to appear. To determine the true cause and course for treatment for adult allergy sufferer, the primary care doctor’s office is the first and most appropriate place to go.
Regardless of age, here are the major symptoms to look out for that will tell you an allergic reaction has started:
- Rhinitis: Runny or stuffy noses with sneezing, often mistaken for the common cold
- Dermatitis: Skin rashes and inflammation, coming in the form of eczema and hives
- Persistent nausea and vomiting (can also be caused by a food allergy)
- Hay fever: Itchy, watery eyes and nasal swelling
- Anaphylaxis: A drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing, mostly triggered by a staple food. An episode, called anaphylactic shock, can be life-threatening.
Where to Find Relief for Allergies
Whether you’re worried about a new symptom or need help dealing with an on-going condition, there is always somewhere to go when allergies strike. The general rule of thumb: While all care choices can treat seasonal allergies, only primary care doctors and specialists can manage all ongoing cases, including food allergies!
- Understand your symptoms: Often it can be difficult to tell if you or your child actually has “hay fever” or is just suffering from the common cold. Blue Cross PPO and Blue Care Network HMO members can ring up the 24-Hour Nurse Line to figure out if an allergic reaction is occurring. The trained professionals can be a calm, guiding force and let you know where to go for proper treatment. Blue Cross Online VisitsSM are another option that you can access any time of the day, right from your smartphone or desktop computer. But, in-person visits with a specialist are recommended.
- Receive an allergy test: First and foremost, you should first visit your primary care doctor to get a formal evaluation of the smaller health problems (e.g., inflamed skin, shortness of breath) you think may be tied to an allergy. Your doctor can administer a variety of blood or skin tests or refer you to an allergist if the situation requires it. No matter if it is a developing food or seasonal allergy, they have the resources and qualifications to diagnose and treat.
- Get your medications: Depending on your allergy, retail health clinics are able to fill prescriptions and give over-the-counter medications to manage symptoms. Bring your prescription straight from your doctor’s appointment to get everything you need to fight allergies, all in one trip.
- Watch for severe allergic reactions: In the event of anaphylactic shock, where there may be chest pain, tightness in the lungs, swelling and difficulty breathing, immediately call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room.
There is never a convenient time to deal with allergies. To understand all of the care and treatment options available to you, head over to bcbsm.com/findcare.
Photo credit: kdshutterman