Summer allergy season has arrived, and for the 50 million people in the U.S. who live with the condition it can be a very uncomfortable time of year.
Though the symptoms of allergies can be pretty standard, it’s important for travel nurses to not rely too heavily on that diagnosis without a proper test. The signs of allergies can mimic a number of other conditions, which could go untreated if medical professionals are too quick to identify seasonal allergies as the culprit.
To help you provide the best possible treatment for your patients, read about the ways to differentiate allergies for other illnesses:
Seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis, are typically not dangerous for people who have them. Sensitive immune systems react poorly to organic materials like mold spores or tree and grass pollen, which cause inflammation in the sinuses and general respiratory system. This often leads to itchy, watery eyes, runny noises, scratchy throats, coughing and sneezing. People who have more severe reactions may experience significant congestion, low fevers and fatigue.
Patients who have low-grade allergies can typically treat their condition with simple over-the-counter medications. Some don’t bother going in to see their medical care team and just turn to antihistamines that target their symptoms. Those who are familiar with their seasonal allergies recognize right away what they are experiencing when the seasons change and take care of their condition accordingly.
“First-time allergy sufferers may think they have a cold or the flu.”
But what about people who are unaware of the cause for their discomfort? National Geographic reported that pollen allergies are on the rise, and pollen counts are expected to keep increasing, doubling by 2040. Adults who have gone their whole lives without experiencing allergies can suddenly feel the effects of their body treating pollen particles like a parasite, kicking their immune system into high gear as it works to eradicate the invader.
First-time allergy sufferers may think they have a cold or the flu. Travel nurses can help quickly identify the problem by asking patients when their symptoms started and what kind of plant life grows near their homes or offices. Birch and cedar trees, for example, are responsible for numerous allergic reactions.
While these kind of questions can help suggest the possibility of allergic rhinitis, a skin prick test is the best way to identify allergies, and their causes. Nurses will typically perform these tests, while doctors interpret the results, the Mayo Clinic explained. The patient’s arm is lightly stuck with a small needle. Common allergens are then applied to the skin and monitored for a reaction. Itching, redness and bumps can signal an allergic reaction, helping to identify which substance is causes the symptoms.
When a cause is confirmed, the patient may be advised to take a specific medication, such as an oral drug or a nasal spray to help soothe their inflammation. Some patients may even opt for allergy shots rather than taking a pill every day.
Illnesses that mimic allergies
While most patients can simply try an antihistamine if they experience itching and sneezing during peak allergy seasons, some will find that these medications aren’t alleviating their discomfort. Without a proper allergy test, they can’t realistically confirm that they have allergies, rather than another condition that has similar symptoms.
The common cold, for example, can feel a lot like allergies for some people. The biggest differences are that colds usually trigger higher fevers, chills and a painful sore throat versus one that’s just scratchy, CBS reported.
The flu can also seem like allergies in terms of congestion and cough, but it too usually includes a higher fever, as well as body aches, loss of appetite and nausea.
If you test a patient for seasonal allergies and they don’t have a reaction, you’ll need to start trying to uncover what’s really causing their symptoms. The University of Maryland Medical Center listed several conditions to consider that could give off the impression of allergies, such as:
Sinusitis. Sinus infections can be initially triggered by allergies, as well as the common cold or polyps. Unlike allergies, however, sinusitis cannot be treated with simple over-the-counter medicines. This condition usually includes more pain and pressure in the face or dental discomfort as well. Patients may need antibiotics to clear up the infection.
Bronchitis. This is an infection that can be caused by the same virus that leads to the cold or flu. Bronchitis includes cough, congestion and chest discomfort, triggered by an inflammation of the lung’s airways. In cases of bacterial bronchitis, antibiotics can help treat the condition, but viral cases usually involve managing symptoms instead of having a cure for the disease. In some cases, you may need to order x-rays to fully identify this illness’s presence.
Asthma. Patients with asthma experience inflammation of their airways, which leads to coughing and shortness of breath. Asthma is a chronic condition with no exact known cause, but asthma flare-ups can be triggered by pollen and other allergies that irritate the lungs. As a result, the condition can be misdiagnosed as allergies. Breathing tests and a physical exam can help a medical team recognize asthma so that patients can get the proper treatment and clear up their symptoms. This usually involves oral medications or inhaled anti-inflammatory drugs.
If a patient comes in seeking treatment for allergies during one of your travel nursing jobs, it’s important to conduct an allergy test first to ensure that truly is the cause of the discomfort. Find out how long they have had symptoms for and what medicines they’ve already attempted. Chances are good that if they’ve been using an allergy medication for several days or weeks with no results, you’re looking at another kind of respiratory ailment. Talk with you patient to help uncover important information that can lead to a quick and effective diagnosis and offer them practices they can try at home to alleviative some of their worst symptoms. You can help them be more comfortable and get to the root cause of their ailments.