Can Untreated Seasonal Allergies Lead to Something More Serious?
North Texas and seasonal allergies are almost synonymous. If you’re from the area, chances are you’ve dealt with seasonal allergies for the majority of your life, which is why it can be so easy to brush off the symptoms they cause as nothing more than just a nuisance, but we wanted to know if, left untreated, seasonal allergies could lead to more serious complications.
Amanda Jimenez, M.D., an internist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Flower Mound and Texas Health Internal Medicine – Vista Ridge, says leaving seasonal allergies untreated can cause a host of issues.
You could get a sinus infection
“For an individual suffering from allergies, with each breath taken, allergens are inhaled which cause nasal and sinus passages to become inflamed and swollen,” Jimenez says. “If left untreated, bacteria can accumulate and lead to a sinus head and/or sinus infection.”
When your nasal and sinus passages swell, they’re less effective at draining fluids, and all that built up fluid and the bacteria it contains causes an infection. Before an infection has time to take hold, clear up congestion with an over-the-counter antihistamine or a saline nasal spray.
Your work performance could suffer
“Individuals suffering from allergies may often feel fatigued and/or irritable,” Jimenez says. “Allergy sufferers can have difficulty breathing when they are asleep due to inflamed nasal passages, which negatively impacts their quality of sleep.”
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology states that almost a third of allergy sufferers surveyed reported impaired performance at work and more than two perfect missed work altogether. Additional studies suggest that, on average, people lose 2.3 hours a day when they are suffering from allergy symptoms.
You may have an asthma attack
The majority of individuals who suffer from asthma also have allergies. Since ragweed and grass pollen are some of the most common summer allergens in North Texas, Jimenez recommends allergy testing to know what you’re most allergic to and checking historical pollen counts to know what time of the year your symptoms are the worst.
“This way, individuals with known asthma can take preventive measures like taking oral over-the-counter medications or prescription medications,” Jimenez says. “But also be sure to carry your rescue inhaler at all times — a fatal asthma attack can occur in anyone with mild intermittent to more severe asthma.”
Jimenez says that allergies can be made worse by smoking, perfumes or strong scents, air pollution and even hanging your laundry outdoors to dry.
It is common to confuse allergy symptoms with cold symptoms and vice versa, which can make treating them difficult, but Jimenez says there are some key differentiators.
“Allergies are caused by an overactive immune response caused by mistaking harmless dust or pollen for germs or a harmful foreign body and are not contagious,” Jimenez says. “Allergies can be seasonal or year-round and a cough or sore throat is sometimes present.”
The easiest way to distinguish a cold from allergies is that allergy symptoms typically last for weeks and sometimes months, so if you feel like you have a lingering cold every summer or spring, the culprit may be something you’re allergic to, not a virus.
“Colds are caused by a virus and are contagious via air droplets (sneeze or cough) or direct contact,” Jimenez adds. “Colds can last one to two weeks, but do not usually last more than two weeks. They’re more common during the winter months and they are often accompanied by a cough and sore throat.”
If allergies are diminishing your quality of life, whether they cause an infection or not, it is worth seeking help. Jimenez says the easiest route is to try over-the-counter medications to help manage your allergy symptoms.
When in the allergy aisle look for medication that features these ingredients:
- Antihistamine — to prevent your body’s immune response to allergens
- Guaifenesin — to decrease mucus production
- Dextromethorphan — to prevent coughing
For a natural decongestant, Jimenez also suggests a nasal saline spray to help dissolve thick mucus.
If you try over-the-counter medications and you are still having a hard time managing symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care physician who can refer you to an allergist or ear/nose/throat physician who can treat your symptoms more effectively.
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