Itchy red eyes, sneezing, a chronic cough, nasal congestion, wheezing or shortness of breath and fatigue—yep, you’ve got allergies. And you’re not alone. An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies (that’s 1 in 5 Americans), and allergy is the fifth leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all age groups, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
When to bring it up: “If you’re taking over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines—which are now widely available and don’t require a prescription—and find that you’re becoming dependent upon them,” says allergist and immunologist Dean Mitchell, M.D. of Ocean Allergy & Asthma.
“If you’re taking these medications on a daily basis in the spring and fall or even all throughout the year, then that’s a good indication that you should see your doctor and discuss being allergy tested because obviously you’re suffering and dependent upon medication that may not even really be treating your underlying allergies.”
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Talking points: Share with your doctor the quality of life issues that are affecting you because of your allergies. “A doctor will realize the severity of how environmental allergies are affecting a patient if a patient brings up the issues that affect their quality of life,” says Mitchell. “For example, if you’re fatigued, if you’re not sleeping well or if you can’t exercise or play sports outdoors because the pollen is too high.”
Ask your doctor for allergy testing—a simple blood test (called ImmunoCAP) that can measure your specific reaction to an airborne allergen, such as cat dander or tree pollen. The results can be used to help decide on the right treatment such as air purifiers and in some cases, immunotherapy to try to reverse the underlying allergies, according to Dr. Mitchell.
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