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Allergies Health Center

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Could It Be an Allergy?

Telling the difference between an allergic reaction and something else can be tricky.

Mistaking Allergies: Easy to Do continued...

As in Fields' case, food allergy is one of the more regularly misrecognized types of reactions among people trying to self-diagnose. "In general, it's more common to experience food intolerance than an actual allergy," says allergy specialist Alan Goldsobel, MD, FAAAAI. "For the majority of people who believe they have one, when they get tested it's not a true food allergic reaction," says Goldsobel, who is a clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and adjunct associate professor at Stanford University Medical Center.

Goldsobel points out that although nearly 20% of adults claim they have a food allergy, studies show that only about 2% of adults have a true food allergy based on test results. And whereas almost 30% of parents say they think their child has a food allergy, the actual rates range from only 6% to 8% among children under age 6.

Regardless of whether it's food or other types of allergy, specialists say they rarely ever have to convince someone they have one. "It's always the other way around. I'm usually trying to persuade patients that they aren't allergic to something," Resnick tells WebMD.

How to Recognize an Allergy

Although you can't always tell the difference between an allergy and something else for sure, here are some general tips to help distinguish an allergy:

Make a checklist of symptoms. Differentiating nasal allergy problems from cold or viral conditions spells relief for most people because nasal allergy symptoms (also known as allergic rhinitis) affects between 10% to 30% of all adults, but treatment can reduce those symptoms in about 85% of those sufferers. So if you're not sure if you have one or the other, inventory your symptoms.

"If the list encompasses fever, greenish or yellow-colored mucus, or joint and muscle pain, then it's more likely a cold," Resnick says. But if you've got sneezing; itchy, red, or watery eyes; clear nasal discharge; or your nose, throat or ears feel scratchy -- then he says you're probably dealing with an allergy.

Timing is everything. The duration and time of year the symptoms occur can be strong clues to identifying their root cause. "Once you find that the symptoms are lasting two or three weeks or even a few months, we say it's probably not a routine cold," Goldsobel says.

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