It's now offically spring and if you suffer from seasonal allergies, you know the telltale signs: You’re sniffly and snuffly, and your eyes are itchy and have taken on a red, zombie-like hue. Happens every year.
That’s because when you have an allergy, your immune system reacts to a harmless substance as if your body is being invaded. There are a number of allergens that can trigger a reaction, ranging from annoying to fatal. This list below goes beyond seasonal allergies, but the most common include pollen, dust, certain foods, insect stings, animal hair, mould, medications, and latex.
But what if your symptoms are accompanied by a fever? Could that be caused by allergies, too? Here’s what doctors want you to know.
What are the most common allergy symptoms, again?
With seasonal allergies (the technical term is seasonal allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever), the substance that the body commonly reacts to is pollen. But indoor mould, the fur from a cat or dog, cigarette smoke, and dust mites can also trigger symptoms.
Common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- Itching in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes
- Stuffy nose (congestion)
- Runny nose
- Watery or itchy eyes
- Dark circles under the eyes
Do allergies cause a fever?
“Seasonal allergies should not cause a fever,” as a high temperature often signals your body is fighting a bacterial or viral infection, says Dr Jessica Hui, and allergy and immunology specialist. “Many of us have heard someone sneeze and then say, ‘It’s just my allergies’ when they’re actually sick with the common cold.”
Symptoms of the common cold, flu, or COVID-19 are often confused with seasonal allergies, as there’s a lot of overlap with symptoms. But if there is an associated fever—when your temperature hits 38 degrees or more—it’s important to think beyond allergies, because it may be an illness that is contagious and warrants a sick day,” explains Dr Hui.
How to tell if your symptoms are due to allergies
If you think you have allergies, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with an allergist/immunologist, the type of doctor who treats these conditions. “My patients commonly tell me that they didn’t realise how miserable their symptoms were until they started medications that allowed them to breathe easier with less congestion or have an improved sense of smell,” says Dr Hui.
To diagnose a patient, “the first thing we want to gather is the history so we have a clear understanding of how you feel and what your goals are for this visit,” explains Dr Hui. She asks questions like: What are you experiencing? How long has this been going on? What makes it better or worse? Have you tried anything to treat your symptoms?
Based on the information gathered from talking with you and performing a physical exam, “we can actually provide some treatment options without further testing,” says Dr Hui. “However, we often do pursue the allergy testing route, as this gives us more specifics.”
The most common allergy test is the skin prick test, where a small amount of allergen is placed on the skin as a prick. After waiting a short time, your doctor looks for swelling and redness, which would indicate an allergy may exist to that allergen. “We often test for multiple allergens during that same visit, such as various trees, grasses, and weeds,” says Dr Hui. Then, you and your doctor can settle on the best treatment.
How to treat allergy symptoms
There’s an important step when trying to manage the symptoms of seasonal allergies. “Decreasing exposure to the allergens you’re allergic to is an important action that people often don’t think about,” says Dr Hui. “For example, keeping the windows of your home and car closed when the pollen counts are high or showering after outdoor activities.”
When it comes to medications, there are many that can treat your symptoms. “Intranasal steroid sprays are available over-the-counter or by prescription, and studies have shown great benefit when used consistently; the spray reduces inflammation and thus decreases symptoms like sneezing and congestion,” says Dr Hui.
Oral antihistamines are also particularly helpful when someone has hives. Finally, allergen immunotherapy, or allergy shots, often provide long term benefit and are tailored towards the allergens you’re specifically allergic to.