What’s Causing My Allergy Symptoms?

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From annoyances like watery eyes and sneezing to severe, potentially life-threatening reactions, allergy symptoms vary greatly.

The range of allergies and symptoms include:

What's Causing My Allergy Symptoms - In Content
  • Allergic rhinitis. The seasonal version — hay fever — involves sneezing, stuffy or runny nose and itchy eyes triggered by pollen and other outdoor allergens. Indoor allergens such as dust mites, molds or pets can bring on these symptoms year-round.
  • Urticaria, or hives. Itchy, red bumps are often triggered by certain foods or medications.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis. This condition presents as red, itchy, swollen eyes.
  • Atopic dermatitis, or eczema. About half of those who endure the itchy, reddened, flaking or peeling skin of eczema also develop asthma.
  • Asthma. This chronic lung disease brings on coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing. It results from inflammation and narrowing of airways. Tobacco smoke and other irritants may worsen asthma.
  • Food allergies. These are an overreaction of the immune system to specific proteins in certain foods such as cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts.
  • Rhinosinusitis, or sinusitis. A swelling of the sinuses, this condition is characterized by nasal congestion, facial pressure, cough and thick nasal discharge. Allergic rhinitis or asthma may contribute.
  • Anaphylaxis. This is a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction, most commonly to foods, insect stings, medications and latex. Symptoms may include light-headedness, shortness of breath, throat tightness, anxiety, flushing and feeling of warmth, a red, itchy rash, pain or cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Extreme cases involve a drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and shock.

When to Seek Allergy Testing

Avoiding allergens goes a long way toward preventing allergic reactions. But that assumes you know what you’re allergic to. In many cases, you may already be aware — like when you sneeze whenever a cat’s in sight or lurking nearby.

You may take this online symptoms test provided by the American College of Allergies, Asthma & Immunology to gauge your risk for allergies or asthma.

Other times you may not know what’s causing your symptoms. That’s when allergy testing may be a good idea, says Dr. Joseph Allen of Family Medicine of Vandalia, because you can’t avoid what you’re not aware of.

Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

How are food and skin allergies diagnosed?

There are many ways we can use to test and see where these skin allergies, what they’re from, the food allergies, what they may be from. Generally, adults know what they’re allergic to, as far as foods go. By that time, they’ve tried a lot of things, they can do that. So we usually see the food allergies in kids. But nonetheless, tracking down what causes the allergy can be difficult. It’s definitely a work in progress with a lot of patients. You basically backtrack and see what they were exposed to that was different or new. Maybe it was a soap they used, maybe it was some food that they had never had before, some spice that they had never used before, or it could be multiple things. With that being said, once you start eliminating those things, they’ve tried some food, stay away from that food and let’s see what happens and if they have another reaction and they were not taking that, then we start looking for other reasons for it. As far as the gold standard, I should say, for diagnosis, it is skin testing. They take a little bit of what they call antigen, and stick it under your skin with a little needle and if you react to it and you get a big welt, then we know you’re allergic to that. That’s the testing kind of gold standard for those things. We don’t do that in the office here. We use more of a detailed history to kind of test to determine what they’re allergic to or how to determine that.


Before recommending allergy testing, your doctor may perform an exam and ask about your health history. If you’re experiencing severe allergic reactions, she may ask you to keep a journal to record your symptoms and food or other substances that appear to be related.

Itchy, red bumps are often triggered by certain foods or medications.

To confirm what’s causing your allergy, your doctor may order allergy tests such as:

  • Skin test. This exposes your skin to small amounts of allergens, by pricking, scratching or injection just under the skin’s surface. When you’re allergic to a tested allergen, a small raised bump, similar to a mosquito bite, forms.
  • Challenge test. Supervised by an allergist, this test is most commonly used to diagnose food or drug allergies. First, your exposure to a suspected allergen is removed for several weeks. Then the allergen is reintroduced as the allergist watches to see whether your symptoms return.
  • Blood test. This checks for and measures presence of antibodies produced by your body as a defense against allergens. Blood tests are used when skin testing isn’t helpful or possible.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.