Allergy Testing

4 min read

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Allergies

Allergies are a common condition that occurs when the immune system reacts to a typically harmless substance, such as pollen, pet dander, or certain foods. These substances, known as allergens, can trigger a range of symptoms that vary in severity from mild to life-threatening. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of allergies is crucial for seeking appropriate testing, diagnosis, and treatment.

a collage of images of different types of objects

Common Symptoms of Allergies

  1. Nasal Congestion
    1. Description: Stuffy or blocked nose due to inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages
    2. Cause: Allergic reaction to inhaled allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander
    3. Impact: Can cause difficulty breathing through the nose, altered sense of smell, and discomfort
  2. Runny Nose (Rhinorrhea)
    1. Description: Excessive nasal discharge, often clear and watery
    2. Cause: Increased production of mucus in response to allergen exposure
    3. Impact: Can lead to frequent nose-blowing, nasal irritation, and raw skin around the nostrils
  3. Sneezing
    1. Description: Involuntary expulsion of air from the nose and mouth
    2. Cause: Irritation of the nasal passages due to allergen exposure
    3. Pattern: Often occurs in fits or clusters, especially upon initial exposure to an allergen
  4. Itchy Nose, Eyes, Ears, or Throat
    1. Description: Tingling or prickling sensation in the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, ears, or throat
    2. Cause: Release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators in response to allergen exposure
    3. Impact: Can cause discomfort, frequent rubbing or scratching, and potential skin irritation
  5. Watery or Red Eyes
    1. Description: Excessive tearing, redness, or swelling of the eyes and surrounding tissues
    2. Cause: Allergic reaction affecting the conjunctiva (the clear membrane covering the eye)
    3. Impact: Can cause visual disturbances, light sensitivity, and a gritty or foreign body sensation

Yes, allergies can cause symptoms that resemble other conditions, such as the common cold or sinus infections. For example, both allergies and colds can cause nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing. However, allergies are more likely to cause itching and typically do not cause fever, while colds are more likely to cause body aches, sore throat, and thick, discolored nasal discharge. Allergies can also trigger asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, which may be mistaken for respiratory infections or other lung conditions. If you experience persistent or recurrent symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and appropriate management.

Less Common Symptoms of Allergies

  1. Skin Rash or Hives
    1. Description: Raised, red, itchy bumps or welts on the skin
    2. Cause: Allergic reaction to substances that come into contact with the skin, such as latex, certain foods, or medications
    3. Appearance: Can be localized or widespread, and may appear suddenly or gradually
  2. Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis
    1. Description: Chronic, inflammatory skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, and cracked skin
    2. Cause: Often associated with a personal or family history of allergies, asthma, or hay fever
    3. Appearance: Commonly affects the creases of the elbows, knees, and hands, but can occur anywhere on the body
  3. Gastrointestinal Symptoms
    1. Description: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea
    2. Cause: Allergic reaction to ingested allergens, such as certain foods or oral medications
    3. Onset: Can occur within minutes to hours after allergen exposure, depending on the type and amount of allergen consumed
  4. Respiratory Symptoms
    1. Description: Coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath
    2. Cause: Allergic reaction affecting the airways, often in individuals with underlying asthma or respiratory conditions
    3. Triggers: Can be induced by inhaled allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander, or by other factors such as exercise or cold air
SymptomAllergiesColdsSinus Infections
DurationVaries3-14 days10+ days
Aches and PainsRareCommonCommon
Nasal DischargeClear, wateryThick, discoloredThick, discolored
SneezingCommonCommonLess common

Anaphylaxis: A Severe Allergic Reaction

Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:

  1. Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  2. Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  3. Hives or widespread rash
  4. Dizziness, fainting, or loss of consciousness
  5. Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
  6. Rapid heartbeat or low blood pressure
If you or someone around you experiences symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek emergency medical attention immediately. People with known severe allergies should carry an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) at all times and know how to use it in case of an anaphylactic reaction.

Distinguishing between allergies and other conditions can be challenging, as many symptoms overlap. However, there are a few key factors that may suggest allergies:

  1. Symptom patterns: Allergies often cause itching, sneezing, and clear, watery nasal discharge, while other conditions may cause fever, body aches, and thick, discolored mucus.
  2. Timing: Allergies typically occur soon after exposure to an allergen and may last for days or weeks, while colds and sinus infections usually develop gradually and resolve within 1-2 weeks.
  3. Triggers: Allergies are often triggered by specific substances, such as pollen, pet dander, or certain foods, while other conditions may be caused by viruses or bacteria.
  4. Family history: Allergies tend to run in families, so a personal or family history of allergies, asthma, or eczema may suggest an allergic cause.

If you are unsure whether your symptoms are due to allergies or another condition, consult with a healthcare provider for proper evaluation and diagnosis. They may recommend allergy testing or other diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms. </details>

When to Seek Medical Attention

While many allergic reactions can be managed with over-the-counter medications and lifestyle modifications, there are certain situations in which medical attention is necessary:

  1. Symptoms that interfere with daily activities or quality of life
  2. Symptoms that do not improve with over-the-counter medications
  3. Symptoms that worsen or become more frequent over time
  4. Suspected food allergies, especially in children
  5. Signs of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the throat
  6. Presence of other health conditions that may complicate allergy management
If you experience severe or persistent allergy symptoms, consult with a healthcare provider, such as an allergist or immunologist, for proper evaluation, testing, and treatment. They can help identify your specific allergens, develop a personalized management plan, and provide guidance on allergen avoidance and emergency preparedness.


Recognizing the signs and symptoms of allergies is essential for seeking appropriate testing, diagnosis, and treatment. By understanding the common and less common symptoms of allergies, as well as the signs of severe reactions like anaphylaxis, individuals can take proactive steps to manage their condition and improve their quality of life. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have allergies, don't hesitate to consult with a healthcare provider for proper evaluation and care. With the right approach and management plan, most people with allergies can lead healthy, active lives while minimizing the impact of their symptoms.

Caring for You, Every Step of the Way