Is It Allergies or Something Else? How to Discuss Allergies with Your Doctor

patient talking to doctor about allergies

Allergies are becoming increasingly common in the United States and throughout the world. Their symptoms can range from mild nuisances to severe and potentially life-threatening disorders.

If you are struggling with symptoms you believe might be allergy-related, it’s important to address them promptly. One of the key reasons allergies should be diagnosed early is to enable effective long-term management.

You might be able to visit an allergist directly (without a referral) if you've been diagnosed with allergies in the past. However, if you've never experienced allergies previously, you should seek advice from a general practitioner to rule out or address other medical concerns.

Questions for Your Primary Care Physician

Determining whether your symptoms are related to allergies or other medical issues can be challenging. While allergies are extremely common, they are often confused with other health problems, such as the common cold or COVID-19. Consulting with a primary care physician will help you differentiate between allergies and other medical issues.

Are my symptoms allergies, or are they caused by another health issue?

Allergy symptoms are initiated by exposure to specific allergens such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, or certain foods. If you experience these symptoms in response to known triggers, allergies are likely the cause.

However, if additional physical responses accompany your symptoms or if they persist for an extended period, it may be an indication of other medical issues. For example, if you experience fever, body aches, or a sore throat, it could suggest a viral or bacterial infection rather than allergies. Similarly, having difficulty breathing, chest pain, or a persistent cough could be a sign of respiratory conditions best addressed by a pulmonologist. Allergy symptoms can last as long as you are exposed to any allergen.

There are several kinds of allergies you might experience. Recognizing the distinct physical responses these different allergies cause will help you advocate for the most effective medical solutions.

  • Seasonal Allergies: A seasonal allergy, also called hay fever or allergic rhinitis, arises during specific times of the year when certain plants release pollen into the air. Common allergens include tree pollen, grass pollen, and weed pollen. Symptoms might include sneezing, itching, runny nose, and watery eyes.
  • Food Allergies: Food allergies develop when the immune response overreacts to certain proteins found in specific types of food. Common food allergens are shellfish, soy products, tree nuts, peanuts, and eggs. Symptoms can be minor or intense and might include hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and even anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction.
  • Drug Allergies: Drug allergies can develop due to an adverse immune response to certain medications. Common drug allergens include antibiotics (such as penicillin), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and chemotherapy drugs. Symptoms can vary and may include rash, hives, itching, facial swelling, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
  • Insect Venom Allergies: Insect allergies occur when an individual's immune system reacts abnormally to insect venom injected during a sting. Common insects that cause allergic reactions include bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants. Symptoms of insect sting allergies can range from mild swelling and redness at the sting site to severe reactions such as hives, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis.
  • Contact Dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is a form of allergic response that occurs when the skin comes into direct contact with certain substances, causing an allergic reaction. Common triggers for contact dermatitis include cosmetics, jewelry, latex, and certain chemicals. Symptoms may include redness, itching, rash, and blistering.

Are lifestyle or environmental factors related to my symptoms?

It's not always easy to pinpoint potential causes of allergy symptoms. If you've never experienced allergies previously but are now having noticeable symptoms, the issue could be related to exposure to new environmental elements.

  • Have you moved recently? Your new dwelling might be harboring allergens. Dust mites, mold, pet hair, and construction dust can all trigger allergic responses.
  • Did you start a new job? Your new place of employment might be the culprit. Certain chemicals in manufacturing or industrial applications, latex in gloves, and even airborne food particles can trigger an allergic response.
  • Did you start a new relationship? Spending time in a new acquaintance's home or workplace or engaging in new activities could trigger allergies.
  • Did a new business open in your neighborhood? Has a new plant opened near your home? The operation could be expelling pollutants that might cause allergic reactions.
  • Did you change your diet? The introduction of new and unfamiliar foods could be the culprit.

Once your primary care physician has excluded non-allergy medical issues, talking to an allergy specialist is a critical step in identifying, treating, and managing allergies successfully.

What If I Can't Get a Referral to See an Allergist?

When faced with a health concern that requires specialized care, obtaining a doctor's referral to a specialist is often the recommended course of action. However, there are instances when acquiring such a referral may not be possible or feasible.

It is worth noting that not all healthcare systems or insurance plans require a referral to see an allergist. Some plans provide direct access to specialists, allowing patients to schedule appointments without a referral. This flexibility may be the case in PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) or other insurance plans offering more autonomy in choosing healthcare providers.

If you find yourself in a situation where you can't get a doctor's referral to an allergy specialist, please don't hesitate to contact our helpful representatives, and we'll be more than happy to provide guidance.