QA: Allergies

Your biggest questions about allergies have been answered! We respond to select Facebook inquiries from Oz viewers. Learn more about allergies.

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Kayla F. from Facebook asks: Why do we have allergies in the first place?
Allergies are the body's overreaction to a substance that is otherwise usually harmless. A person with allergies has an immune reaction to the substance, the allergen, they are sensitized to. For a hay fever sufferer, that otherwise harmless substance might be grass pollen and their allergic reaction might result in inflammation in the nose, throat or eyes. When this person goes out to mow the lawn, he or she may return with a runny nose, itching, sneezing and even watery eyes.

One may ask the question, “If pollen is really harmless, why do we even have allergies?” Well, if we breathed in something dangerous through the nose, the allergic reaction would be very helpful. We would develop a lot of mucous and literally sneeze out the invader. With allergies, our immune system is mistaking things like grass pollen or animal dander for the enemy. So our body has a good strategy, but it is misdirected. It's important to note that it's the body's response to the allergen that causes the allergy symptoms. When a person with allergies comes in contact with the allergen, their body produces compounds such as histamine, leukotrienes, cytokines and prostaglandins that can cause their allergy symptoms.

Heather S. from Facebook asks: Do allergies cause daily headaches and pressure in the front of the head and between the eyes?
Allergies can cause headaches and a feeling of pressure in the front of the head and between the eyes where we have our sinuses. Nasal allergies often cause inflammation not only in the nose, but also in the sinus passages that connect to the nose. Inflammation in the sinuses can block those passageways leading to headache and what some call 'sinus pressure.'

But allergies are not always the cause of headache and pressure symptoms. Migraines, tension headaches, sinus infections and other common problems can also cause these symptoms. The timing of symptoms can be a clue. If sinus pressure and headaches are caused by allergies, there are often other allergy symptoms at the same time, like sneezing and itching. While we often use the term hay fever for nasal allergies, these allergies can occur seasonally as with tree and grass pollen allergy or can occur year-round as with allergies to cats or dust. So if headache and pressure symptoms are caused by allergies, they likely follow the same time course as the other allergy symptoms. However, since these symptoms may be caused by other medical conditions, anyone with long-lasting or worsening symptoms or symptoms that do not improve with over-the-counter treatments should see a doctor.

Christy W. from Facebook asks: Allergy medicine really dries my sinuses. Which medicines are less drying?
Some allergy medicines can provide too much of a good thing and dry out the delicate surface inside the nose and sinuses. In particular, this may be seen with medicines in the antihistamine or decongestant categories. Medicines that fight the underlying inflammation, such as triamcinolone nasal spray, which was recently approved for over-the-counter use, may be less likely to cause this. Be sure to ask your doctor before starting a new medication. Also, saline or salt water washes or sprays can help moisturize the nasal and sinus passages if they become too dried out.

King S. from Facebbook asks: Can allergies cause fevers?
Nasal allergies do not usually cause fevers. If a person has a fever they may have an infection and may need to be seen by a doctor for an evaluation.

Pam C. from Facebook asks: Is it true that the color of your phlegm or nose mucus tells you whether it's allergies?
The color of phlegm or nose mucus can be helpful in sorting out the cause of symptoms, but it is just one clue among many. With nasal allergies, one may have a lot of mucus, which is often clear or whitish in color. Someone with year-round allergies with sinus symptoms may have thicker mucous that is yellowish in color. With the common cold, which is caused by viruses, mucus may be clear and watery in the beginning but often gets thicker and darker in color as the cold worsens. If the mucous persists and particularly if it gets very yellow or green, this could signal a bacterial infection, possibly in the sinuses. Worsening thick mucus with a yellow or green color should signal a call to the doctor whether it happens after a cold or what is thought to be allergies.

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