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Allergies

Some come and go with the seasons, others are with us year-round. They’re annoying, uncomfortable and sometimes even life-threatening. They’re allergies, and they’re a fact of life for many people.

Common allergy symptoms include itchy eyes and nose, sneezing with nasal congestion, cough, wheezing, and asthma. Allergies can also lead to skin rashes, hives, nausea, a swollen tongue, and, more seriously, anaphylactic shock.

If you have a severe allergic reaction, get medical attention right away.

How allergies happen


Our body’s immune system protects us from all kinds of infectious diseases. Unfortunately, it can also overreact to certain proteins, or allergens, that come in contact with our skin, airway, mouth, pharynx, or intestine.

These tissues are lined with cells that, when triggered by antibodies sensitive to the allergens, release histamines and other inflammatory chemicals. Our body is trying to protect us by destroying these proteins, but in doing so causes the unpleasant symptoms we call allergies.

Allergies run in families; environmental exposures can also increase the likelihood of allergic symptoms. Common allergens include mold, dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, pollens, peanuts and certain drugs, like penicillin.

Treatment


First, see a medical provider for an exam, to be sure symptoms are related to allergies and not another cause, like infection or obstruction.

The next step is to avoid the allergen, if possible. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s causing the problem. An allergist can perform tests to pinpoint the allergens affecting you.

For mild symptoms:

  • Avoid irritants such as indoor and outdoor pollution, smoke, chemicals, perfumes, animal dander, molds, and foods or medications that trigger symptoms.
  • Protect your skin and airway by using moisturizing creams and drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Use saline nasal spray for congestion. A HEPA air filter can help with indoor symptoms.
  • Avoid infections as much as possible.
  • Try an oral antihistamine, such as loratadine (Claritin) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an intranasal antihistamine like azelastine (Astelin) or an ophthalmic antihistamine (Naphcon A) or (Patanol).
  • Topical corticosteroids are used to control inflammation. These can be found in skin creams, nasal sprays, asthma sprays or eye drops. All except low-potency skin creams are prescription items.

Many prescription medications can be effective; another option is a series of allergy shots that can desensitize your immune system to a particular allergen. UHS’ Allergy Clinic administers allergy shots as recommended by your health care provider; for information, call 577-5124.