Could It Be an Allergy?
Telling the difference between an allergic reaction and something else can be tricky.
How to Recognize an Allergy continued...
If nasal allergy symptoms get worse in the spring or fall when pollen counts
are generally higher, then it's more likely to be an allergy. "However, if they
happen all the time, then you still have to figure out if you have a year-round
allergy, which is commonly due to indoor allergens like dust, pets, or
cockroaches," Resnick says.
It's not just a gut feeling. "With food allergy, you're not just
looking for gastrointestinal symptoms like stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating,
or upset stomach -- you're also looking for a rash, or respiratory symptoms –
something that goes beyond the GI tract," Goldsobel says. The reason? Food
allergies are usually a multiple system reaction. So if just one organ system
appears to be involved, it's more likely to be something else, such as an
intolerance, insensitivity or even food poisoning.
Rule out brain and nervous system disorders. According to the
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, certain disorders often
thought to cause food allergies either do not have enough research to support a
link, or they have been disproven to be related. Among them are migraine,
hyperactivity in kids, and certain disorders related to brain and central
nervous system functioning -- mainly characterized by symptoms of fatigue,
nervousness, and trouble concentrating combined with headaches. So most likely,
you can eliminate food allergies from the list of possible culprits for these
"A lot of parents come in saying their child's behavior or mood or
irritability is due to a food allergy, and they're basically wondering what
food is going to make them turn into a well-behaved, calm child – that's really
what's being asked," Goldsobel says. "Unbiased research studies show that in
the absence of other symptoms, just effects on the brain in terms of thought
processes, mood, or behavior are extremely uncommon as a manifestation of food
allergy," he says.
When You Can't Figure It Out on Your Own
Sometimes it's nearly impossible to tell if you're having an allergy short
of being examined by a doctor. The prime example: a skin allergy from contact
with a substance.
"For the person who is having the symptoms, there is probably no defining
difference between allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis
– both are going to irritate the skin the same way," Goldsobel says. Unless
you're tested, it's not really possible to tell if you're having an immune
response or not. But in the end, the solution is usually the same – avoid
contact with whatever is causing the irritation.
If allergy symptoms continue to bother you and at-home treatments (including
avoidance of symptom triggers) fail to work, or if you're still unable to tell
if you're having an allergy or something else, then it's time to talk to your
primary physician or see an allergist for a full evaluation.