Nearly one-third of adults had a seasonal allergy, eczema, or food allergy.

*According to the CDC.

Woman hugging and kissing a cat

What are allergies?

An allergy is the immune system’s reaction to a substance that it misinterprets as a threat. The immune system goes on the defense, producing antibodies that travel to cells throughout the body, while releasing histamines that result in an allergic reaction.

Allergies are the world’s most common chronic condition. In the United States alone, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness. They can cause reactions that range from mildly uncomfortable to life-threatening, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

For many allergies, you can limit your exposure to allergens by staying away from certain places or following certain rules. But if you have an allergy to something like insects or pollen, you can’t always avoid being exposed to it.

Developing an allergy happens in stages

Our bodies interact with allergens on a regular basis. Under normal circumstances, the body does not have a pro-inflammatory response, resulting in what is known as a Type 1 immune response

But in people with allergies, the body switches to a Type 2 immune response when confronted with the allergen. 

In a Type 2 immune response, the immune system sends in T helper type 2 cells, which results in the production of immunoglobulin (Ig) E molecules that trigger the production of histamines and other chemicals.

Allergic sensitization occurs when the body is first exposed to an allergen and a Type 2 immune response.

Through this process, the body “learns” to recognize the allergen. As a result, the next time the body is confronted with the allergen, it is ready and waiting to initiate the inflammatory response.

There are many types of allergies

Signs & symptoms of allergies

There are some common symptoms associated with allergies, but signs and symptoms of allergies will vary from patient to patient and may depend on the type of allergy involved. 

For example, a latex allergy might create a skin response while a pollen allergy will generate respiratory symptoms.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Allergies Include:

People with allergies can have different general signs and symptoms. These are some of the most common signs of allergies:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Swollen, tongue, eyes, or lips
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Red, rashy or cracked skin

Less Common Signs and Symptoms of Allergies Include:

People with allergies can have different general signs and symptoms. These are some of the most common signs of allergies:

  • Sinus headaches
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Constant throat clearing
  • Ear pain
  • Bad breath
  • Brain fog/fatigue

Severe allergy symptoms

In severe cases, a patient will go into what is known as anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening, severe allergic reaction that can cause your body to go into shock.

Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical intervention because, as a result of shock, your blood pressure can drop suddenly and your airways can narrow, impacting breathing.

Usually, anaphylaxis symptoms impact more than one organ system, ranging from the lungs and heart to the gut.

Signs of anaphylaxis can include:

  • Swelling in throat and mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Blue skin and lips
  • Fainting or collapsing
Woman in grey blouse wearing ffp2 mask

Allergies vs. COVID symptoms

While COVID can include some of the same respiratory symptoms as some allergies, it also comes with several other symptoms typically that are not present in allergic reactions.

These include fever and chills, muscle and body aches, and new loss of taste or smell. It may be difficult to tell the difference between allergy and COVID-19 symptoms at the height of allergy season.

Consider your personal medical history with allergies before assuming that you might have COVID-19. Testing can help give you more definitive answers on whether you’re experiencing allergies or COVID-19.

Learn more about allergies vs. COVID symptoms

Teen girl wearing casual clothes feeling unwell and coughing against orange background

Allergies vs. cold vs. bronchitis symptoms

When you have asthma, a cold, or bronchitis, the symptoms can be very similar, making it hard to know which type of doctor to see.

Asthma tends to last longer than the other types and can be caused by allergens, things that irritate the airways, like smoke, or infections.

Because the differences between these conditions can be hard to tell apart, it is often best to see a specialist. Allergists at AllerVie Health can give you accurate diagnoses and treatments that go beyond what a primary care doctor can do.

Our allergists treat allergies, asthma, and related conditions. They also have the equipment and capabilities to perform tests used to diagnose these conditions and then are able to develop treatment plans based on the results.

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Allergies and asthma

Allergies and asthma are sometimes a package deal that come in the form of allergic asthma. This happens when allergens trigger asthma symptoms—one of the most common occurrences.

Allergic asthma symptoms

The following are some of the common symptoms of allergic asthma:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness and pain
  • Trouble sleeping due to asthma symptoms

Allergy asthma triggers

The following are some of the more common triggers for allergic asthma:

  • Dust mites
  • Animals
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Cockroaches
Examples of foods that can trigger allergies including milk, salmon, eggs and nuts

What causes you to have allergies?

In people with allergies, their body views allergens, such as pollen and dust mites, as a potential threat—even when they aren’t.

The body’s immune system takes over and produces antibodies to fight what it thinks are “harmful” allergens. An allergic reaction, which can include itching and sneezing, is how a body responds to an allergen.  

There is a genetic component to allergies. Children who have one parent with allergies are 50% more likely to have allergies; that probability jumps to 75% when both parents have allergies, according to the Allergy & Asthma Network.

Allergies can develop at any point in life. Exposure to new environments or changes in one’s immune system can result in a new allergy in adulthood, for example common allergens that trigger an allergic response include:

  • Shellfish
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Dust
  • Animal or pet dander
  • Insect stings
  • Medications
  • Latex
  • Mold
  • Milk

Who’s at risk for allergies?

As mentioned above, those with a family history of allergies are at a higher risk of developing allergies.

While many allergies develop during childhood, adults in their 20s and 30s are also at risk of developing allergies. Those with existing asthma are also at a higher risk of developing an allergy.

Family history of allergies

Adults in their 20s and 30s

Existing asthma

Most common allergy treatments

Although there’s no cure for allergies, there are several ways to treat allergy symptoms, including:

  • Nasal sprays
  • Oral corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Epinephrine
  • Corticosteroid creams and ointments
  • Eye drops

Several medications can be purchased over the counter, but some of the stronger medications will require a prescription from a medical provider. Mostly, patients can administer these common allergy treatments themselves.


Nasal Sprays

As the name suggests, this form of allergy treatment is sprayed directly into the nose. The three most common types of nasal sprays are:

  • Antihistamine sprays. Available by prescription, this spray offers relief from congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose in minutes. Usually, patients experience less drowsiness when choosing an antihistamine spray over an antihistamine pill. Familiar antihistamine spray brands include Flonase and Nasacort.
  • Decongestant sprays. Kick congestion with this medication, which shrinks your nose’s swollen blood vessels that cause a “stuffy” or “stopped-up” feeling. Decongestant sprays can be bought over the counter, but don’t use them for more than three days, as they can make congestion worse. You may have heard of Afrin or Zicam, which are common decongestant spray brands.
  • Steroid sprays. Often called nasal corticosteroids, steroid sprays are often the first medication recommended to treat allergies. Some versions can be purchased over the counter, while others require a prescription. After about a week, patients may notice a reduction in allergy symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, and itchy eyes.


Oral Corticosteroids

These medications, which can be taken in pill or liquid form, stop several allergic reactions and reduce swelling in the airways. They are powerful medications and require close supervision from the prescribing physician. This type of treatment can be an effective, short-term solution for people with severe allergies. Medical providers prescribe oral corticosteroids to treat swelling and inflammation usually associated with allergies. Common oral corticosteroids include methylprednisolone and prednisone.



Antihistamines come in pill, liquid, tablet or spray form and work to block the release of histamines in the body. Histamines are chemicals that overreact to allergens they see as a threat, causing allergy symptoms such as coughing and sneezing. They are most commonly used to treat indoor or seasonal allergies. Antihistamines can be purchased over the counter but can also be prescribed by a medical provider. Most patients may be familiar with antihistamines in the form of diphenhydramine (or Benadryl®) and desloratadine (or Clarinex®). Mast cell stabilizers also stop the release of histamines and are used in eye drop or nose spray form.



Epinephrine is delivered to the body via a self-injectable device loaded with a pre-measured dose. It is an essential tool in addressing anaphylaxis. Any patient at risk of anaphylaxis will typically carry one of these devices with them. Epinephrine is commonly used to treat those with insect, food, or drug allergies.


Corticosteroid Creams and Ointments

This kind of allergy treatment is used to make skin rashes that can be caused by allergies less itchy and less painful. Corticosteroid creams that are mild, like hydrocortisone skin cream, can be bought without a prescription. But stronger ones, like betamethasone, can only be bought with a prescription from a doctor.


Eye Drops for Allergies

These liquid medicines treat eye allergy symptoms, such as tearing, burning, and itchy eyes. Many eye drops are available over the counter, but if you need something stronger, you may need a prescription from a medical provider. These are the different kinds of eye drops for varying symptoms and allergens:

  • Antihistamine
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Decongestant
  • Mast cell stabilizers

Types of immunotherapy treatment for allergies

Immunotherapy helps get to the main reason for diseases by either turning up or turning down the immune response of the body. Through immunotherapy, small amounts of allergens are given to the body so that it “learns” not to react.

Immunotherapy can be taken by mouth, put under the tongue, or given as an injection. This treatment is often given in the form of allergy shots or allergy drops. Immunotherapy should be supervised by a doctor, since it can be complicated in the beginning.

How immunotherapy works


Build-Up Stage

This stage takes anywhere from 3 to 6 months generally and involves getting the patient safely to the effective dose. Once reached, the process moves into the maintenance stage.


Maintenance Stage

During this stage, the patient takes the effective dose on an ongoing basis. This stage can last for an undesignated amount of time until a patient starts to experience prolonged relief.


Relief From Symptoms

After an initial improvement in symptoms, you may not notice additional improvement for several months. If successful, you should see long-term benefits and a reduction in symptoms.


Immunotherapy side effects

Be aware that side effects, such as allergy symptoms, can manifest in some patients. Anaphylaxis can occur in rare cases. However, at this time, there aren’t any known long-term side effects associated with this treatment.

Smiling man with a band-aid on his left arm from an allergy shot

Allergy shots

Allergy shots are a very common form of immunotherapy and work similarly to a vaccine:

The body is exposed to small amounts of an allergen, allowing the body to gradually build up its immune response.

Patients get allergy shots, administered by a medical provider, one to two times a week during the initial stage of treatment, which can last between three and six months.

Appointments are quick, but patients will have to stick around for a few minutes to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. The maintenance phase can last between three and five years. Outcomes will vary from patient to patient.

Allergy shots can help treat:

Allergy drops

Allergy drops, also called sublingual immunotherapy, are placed under the patient’s tongue.

These drops gradually expose the patient to small amounts of an allergen.

The long-term goal is for the immune system to become desensitized to this allergen, giving way to less severe symptoms.

Allergy drops are an excellent alternative option to allergy shots, whether you don’t like them, or they aren’t effective for you.

Allergy drops are currently only available in our Birmingham, AL clinics in Homewood, Hoover, Oxford, and Cullman.

Not all treatments and special programs are offered at every AllerVie location or by every AllerVie provider. If your provider does administer allergy drops, they can help treat:

  • Dust mites
  • Timothy grass
  • Ragweed
  • A five-grass combination

Allergist getting allergy drops

What to expect during the first allergy drops appointment 

The first appointment will take the longest: There’s a 30-minute monitoring period after the drops are administered. This is a safety measure to ensure that the patient gets medical help if needed. Patients who tolerate the stop well during the first visit will self-administer future doses at home.

Children and mother preparing cooking fruits and vegetables to avoid oral allergy syndrome symptoms naturally.

Oral immunotherapy

Oral immunotherapy, or OIT, is when a patient is slowly and methodically exposed to a food allergy while being watched by a doctor.

At first, the patient eats or drinks far less of the allergen than would normally cause an allergic response. Over time, the doctor will increase the dose, and the patient will also need to take a dose every day at home.

OIT has a lot of benefits for people who are allergic to popular foods like peanuts or tree nuts that are hard to avoid. It can take time, though, and the patient has to keep following maintenance procedures.

Most people hit the maintenance stage in four to six months. OIT can reduce the chance that a patient will have a serious or fatal allergic reaction, but it needs to be maintained for the rest of the patient’s life.

When to see an allergist

Any patient who experiences chronic allergy symptoms should see a doctor or allergist. However, an allergist could be especially helpful to patients who have allergy symptoms that interfere with their quality of life or who experience seasonal allergy symptoms several months throughout the year. 

With board-certified allergists across the United States, AllerVie Health can help you find relief from chronic allergy symptoms. 

Common, recurring symptoms that you can experience can include:

  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Head and nose congestion
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Rashes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic sinus infections

Allergy management 

Currently, there isn’t a cure for allergies—despite the condition’s widespread reach. But there are several ways to lessen the chronic burden allergies can leave behind, including:

  • Testing for allergens. Finding out the allergen that triggers the allergy can help a patient manage their symptoms. 
  • Preventing exposure to known allergens. Once a patient knows what they’re allergic to, they can better control their environment.
  • Having the right treatment plan. A medical provider can help those with allergies manage their symptoms.

Frequently asked questions

How long do allergies last?

How do I get rid of allergies?

Why do allergies get worse at night?

Does local honey help with allergies?