Tissues piling up? It may be time to talk to your doctor about allergies

March 28, 2019 Swedish Health Team


In this article:

  • Allergy and cold symptoms may be similar and include a runny, itchy nose.  

  • Pollen, dust mites, mold spores, smoke and pet dander are common allergens.

  • There are many ways to reduce allergens in the home, such as closing windows and changing air filters.

  • If you or a loved one are suffering from allergies, talk to your Swedish physician. 

Most of us will reach for a tissue to wipe away the sniffles at least one time during the year. But when the tissues start to overflow in your wastebasket, you may be wondering if you’re dealing with allergies or a cold. 

A runny nose is a not-so-subtle sign of allergic rhinitis, one of the most common conditions found in children. Rhinitis is a reaction in the nose triggered by the release of histamine in response to irritating airborne allergens. Histamine causes the delicate linings of the nasal passages and sinuses to fill with fluid or mucus and become itchy and inflamed.

Allergic rhinitis is particularly common during pollen seasons. Pollen is usually worse in the spring and fall, but it is present year-round in regions where there is no pollen-destroying winter frost. In Seattle and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, trees are a major source of airborne pollen from late February through April, grass is a major source from mid-May through early July, and the rest of the year is relatively pollen-free until the following February. Rhinitis can also be caused by dust mites, mold spores, smoke and pet dander.

Allergic rhinitis may be accompanied by an itchy throat, eyes, or ears. Other symptoms, such as sneezing and congestion, are similar to those of a cold or other medical problems. Sometimes, people with rhinitis develop another telltale sign — allergic shiners, which are dark circles under the eyes or on the eyelids as a result of constant rubbing in response to itching.

If you think allergies may be the reason for your or your child’s persistent sniffing, coughing, or runny nose, it’s time to visit your family doctor or pediatrician for a diagnosis. If left untreated, allergic rhinitis can cause daytime sleepiness, nosebleeds, snoring, and mouth breathing, and it can impact how your child performs in school and in social activities.

Your health care provider will typically diagnose allergic rhinitis based on a physical examination and looking at your medical history. Your provider may then refer you to an allergist who can perform tests to determine precisely what allergens may be causing the symptoms.

Once the allergies are diagnosed, the proper treatment can be determined. One of the best ways to deal with allergy symptoms is to steer clear of the allergens in the first place. It is next to impossible to completely avoid airborne allergens, but there are several ways you can reduce the amount of allergens that come into your home from the outside: Keep the windows closed, replace the filters on the vents and air conditioning system, and change your clothes and take a shower after coming in from the outdoors. As for the indoors, keep your pillows, mattress, and box spring in clean casings, and keep pet areas clean.

Other allergy treatment options may include medications such as antihistamines, anti-inflammatory or corticosteroid nasal sprays, and decongestants. Your allergist may recommend a multi-year course of immunotherapy injections if avoidance and medication do not get results. Ask your health care provider about the options that are right for you and your family.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about your allergies, contact the primary care department at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Additional resources 

April Showers Bring Asthma and Allergies Symptoms

Five allergy risk factors for kids and what parents can do

14 unthinkable 'would you rather' questions for people with real allergies

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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