Allergies can seem like a big question mark for many, especially for people who are experiencing them for the first time. Our clinical team receives plenty of questions about different allergy symptoms, genetic considerations, and environmental factors, so we compiled a list of some of the most common allergy questions, to help provide some clarity and insight.
How do I know if I have COVID-19, allergies, or a cold?
Every time allergy season comes around, it’s almost inevitable to feel that distinct tickle in your throat and wonder: are these allergies, or am I getting sick? Before, ‘sick’ might have meant a cold or influenza with symptoms we were familiar with, but with the ever-evolving nature of COVID-19 (or COVID for short), it can be hard to tell what you’re in for when you start to feel sick.
While the symptoms of allergies and COVID can be similar, there are a couple of key distinguishing factors to look out for.
For allergies especially, it can be helpful to ask yourself: do I usually feel nose and eye discomfort at this time of year? Allergy symptoms will typically last for the entire pollen season, as opposed to symptoms of COVID or a cold which will generally improve within 1-2 weeks.
While the symptoms listed above are not exhaustive for COVID, colds, or allergies, they are among the usual symptoms people experience, and some symptoms may even overlap. Click here for a thorough list of symptoms that may be associated with COVID.
Can I outgrow allergies?
There is no definitive answer—it depends on the severity and specific type of allergy. Eighty to ninety percent of children will ‘outgrow’ their egg and cow’s milk allergy, but only 5% will ‘outgrow’ their shellfish allergy. You (or your child) may or may not ‘outgrow’ your allergies, but a good way to know is to get an allergy test done to determine your sensitivities and allergies.
Why did I develop allergies in the first place?
Allergies are what your body experiences when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance (allergen) and starts to attack as if it’s dealing with an intruder. Part of the immune response involves producing antibodies, which are one of your immune system’s main defense mechanisms. Whenever you encounter that allergen, your immune system’s defense response can cause you to experience symptoms of inflammation around your sinuses, airways, digestive system, or skin.
Some common causes of allergies:
- Airborne allergens like pollen, mold, dust, dander
- Foods like peanuts, shellfish, eggs, milk
- Insect stings from insects like wasps or bees
- Latex or other substances that can cause skin reactions
- Medications like antibiotics
If I move to a different place, will my allergies go away?
The short answer is, probably not.
The thing with airborne allergens is, it’s hard to say how different the environment maybe if you move. Allergens that trigger you in one place may still exist in another place, and while you may find different levels of pollen in, say, parts of the Northeast compared to parts of the Southwest, there’s no guarantee that you won’t still experience an allergic response. It’s also worth mentioning, that after you move, you may end up being exposed to a new set of allergens which you can then become sensitized to after 3-5 years of repeated exposure.
According to experts, if you are seriously considering a major move, try to spend about a month at a time in that new environment during different seasons to see how your body responds.
Also, make sure you know if you’re experiencing allergic rhinitis or non-allergic rhinitis—just because you’re experiencing what may feel like allergy symptoms, doesn’t mean your body is actually having an allergic response. (Hint: Nectar’s allergy test is a great place to start.)
So, while moving your life to a new place may not be the answer, a vacation during the peak of your allergy season might be a helpful way to combat allergy symptoms and put your body at ease. The National Allergy Bureau also has an incredibly effective tool for measuring pollen and mold levels across the country and around different parts of the world.
I’m really allergic to cats and dogs, but I love them. I’ll be okay if I get a hypoallergenic pet, right?
Before we answer this question, let’s set the record straight about what you’re actually allergic to. Anyone who suffers from pet allergies is not necessarily allergic to pet hair, but to the proteins found in the skin (otherwise known as dander), saliva, and urine, which can be found attached to pet hair.
Now that we’ve cleared up that common misunderstanding, we can explain what hypoallergenic means.
When something is labeled hypoallergenic, it means there are still allergens present, just fewer allergens than something that isn’t hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, no pet is completely hypoallergenic (yes, even hairless ones). For example, cats have 9 main allergenic proteins, and a person can be allergic to one or more of those proteins. Let’s say a cat has only 2 of those in high concentrations (which is why they were labeled as ‘hypoallergenic’ in the first place). Those proteins may be the ones that you are allergic to, which would still cause significant symptoms. It’s also possible that a person may develop allergic reactions to those specific proteins over time if they weren’t initially allergic.
If you suffer from pet allergies, you may find that your allergy symptoms are different depending on the animal. For instance, you may experience fewer symptoms around your pet, but more significant symptoms around someone else’s pet. This may become an issue if you are considering bringing a new pet into the home.
So what can you do if you have a pet you’re allergic to and are determined to make it work? (We understand, we love pets, too.):
- Maintain a clean home by vacuuming floors often and opt for wooden or tile flooring (carpet traps dander more easily)
- Use a HEPA-graded vacuum filter and bag
- Keep your pet out of your bedroom and wash bed linens to help your quality of sleep
- Keep pets off furniture
- Give your pet baths regularly which can help reduce dander shedding
- Your vet can help you incorporate a balanced diet for your pet, which will help reduce shedding and dry skin
These are just some ways you can help prevent your body from suffering with a pet. If you already know you’re allergic to cats but want one anyway (we can’t blame you), you might want to consider fostering a cat first, to see how your body responds. If you think you might be allergic to a pet you’d like to bring into your home (or if you’re currently living with a pet you are allergic to), take our allergy test and see if you’re eligible for immunotherapy allergy treatment.
Are allergies hereditary?
Yes, allergies tend to be passed down from parents to kids. The hereditary part has more to do with a tendency to be allergic to something and less to do with the specific allergen. One peer-reviewed article by John W. Steinke, Ph.D., and Larry Borish, MD published in The Medical Clinics of North America showed that if one parent has allergies, a child has a 33% chance of developing allergies—if both parents are allergic, there’s a 70% chance.¹
Is there a connection between asthma, migraines, and allergies?
When it comes to bodily symptoms, there are lots of overlaps.
Asthma, migraines, and allergies all include both neuronal and inflammatory components.[²][³] One recent study done by doctors with the American Headache Society aimed to find out if having asthma and episodic migraines (migraines that occur less than 15 times a month) could make someone more likely to develop chronic migraines (migraines that occur more than 15 times a month).[⁴][⁵] Both asthma and migraines are seen by doctors as comorbid (simultaneously present in one patient) chronic disorders—meaning both conditions can sometimes be seen in the same patient. A group of nearly 5000 individuals with episodic migraines (17% also having asthma) was observed over the course of two years, to see if there were any changes in the behavior of their migraines. Among their findings, the people with both asthma and episodic migraines, 5.4% developed chronic migraines. Based on this information, asthma was seen in this study to be associated with an increased risk of new-onset chronic migraines, especially if there was already a history of migraines for the individual.
While there’s no direct causation between each of these chronic conditions, many people who experience one type of condition, often experience the other.
¹ Steinke, John, and Larry Borish. "Genetics of Allergic Disease." The Medical Clinics of North America, 2006.
² Undem, Bradley J, and Thomas Taylor-Clark. “Mechanisms underlying the neuronal-based symptoms of allergy.” The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology vol. 133,6 (2014): 1521-34. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2013.11.027
³ Martin, Vincent T., et al. “Asthma Is a Risk Factor for New Onset Chronic Migraine: Results from the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, vol. 56, no. 1, Nov. 2015, pp. 118–31.
⁴ Katsarava, Zaza et al. “Defining the differences between episodic migraine and chronic migraine.” Current pain and headache reports vol. 16,1 (2012): 86-92. doi:10.1007/s11916-011-0233-z
⁵ Martin, Vincent T., et al. “Asthma Is a Risk Factor for New Onset Chronic Migraine: Results from the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, vol. 56, no. 1, Nov. 2015, pp. 118–31.
They say knowledge is power. We couldn’t agree more. Learn about the chronic health condition that affects 50 million Americans every year.