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Chest and Respiratory Problems


What About Allergy Shots? - Life-Threatening Allergic Reactions - Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional - Food Allergies

Allergies come in many forms. The most common causes of allergies are particles in the air. Hay fever is the most common allergic disease. Allergy symptoms include itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; runny, stuffy, or itchy nose; and fatigue. The symptoms are a lot like cold symptoms,

Chest, Respiratory, Nose, and Throat Problems


Possible Causes

Chest and Respiratory

Wheezing or difficult (rapid, shallow, labored) breathing

Allergies, See Allergies; Asthma, See Asthma; Bronchitis, See Bronchitis.

Cough, fever, yellow-green or rusty sputum, and difficulty breathing (possibly with chest-wall pain)

Bronchitis, See Bronchitis; Pneumonia, See Pneumonia.

Chest pain with sweating or rapid pulse

Chest Pain, See Chest Pain.

Burning, pain, or discomfort behind or below the breastbone

Heartburn, See Heartburn; Chest Pain, See Chest Pain.


Coughs, See Coughs.

Pounding or racing heartbeat; heart skipping or missing a beat

Heart Palpitations, See Heart Palpitations.

Nose and Throat

Stuffy or runny nose with watery eyes, sneezing

Allergies, See Allergies; Colds, See Colds.

Cold symptoms with fever, headache, severe body aches, fatigue

Influenza, See Influenza (Flu).

Thick green, yellow, or gray nasal discharge with fever and facial pain

Sinusitis, See Sinusitis.

Foul odour from nose; swollen, inflamed nasal tissue

Objects in the Nose, See Objects in the Nose; Sinusitis, See Sinusitis.

Sore throat

Sore Throat, See Sore Throat and Strep Throat; Tonsillitis, See Tonsillitis.

Sore throat with white spots on tonsils, swollen glands, fever of 38.3°C (101°F) or higher

Strep Throat, See Sore Throat and Strep Throat

Swollen tonsils, sore throat, fever

Tonsillitis, See Tonsillitis.

Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Swollen Lymph Nodes, See Swollen Lymph Nodes; Tonsillitis, See Tonsillitis.

Hoarseness, loss of voice

Laryngitis, See Laryngitis.

but they usually last longer. Dark circles under the eyes (allergic shiners) or postnasal drip may also accompany hay fever.

You can often discover the cause of an allergy by noting when symptoms occur. Symptoms that occur at the same time each year (especially during spring, early summer, or early fall) are often caused by tree, grass, or weed pollen. Allergies that persist all year long may be due to dust, mites in household dust, cockroaches, mold spores, or animal dander. An animal allergy is often easy to detect: symptoms clear up when you stay away from the animal or its bedding.

Allergies seem to run in families. Parents with hay fever often have children with allergies. Hay fever may develop in children but is more common in teens and adults.

What About Allergy Shots?

Allergy shots (immunotherapy) are a series of shots given to desensitize your body to substances that trigger allergic reactions (allergens). You may need to receive shots for 3 to 5 years before you stop having allergic reactions.

Immunotherapy is effective only if skin sensitivity testing has identified the specific allergy trigger. It is very effective against allergies to bee stings and other insect venom. For most people, immunotherapy is effective against grass, tree, and weed pollens, as well as house dust and house dust mites.

Because of the time and expense involved, you need a realistic idea of the benefits before you agree to the treatment. Discuss these with your doctor. Immunotherapy may be worthwhile for you if:

  • You cannot avoid allergy triggers, or avoiding them has not helped.Your symptoms have bothered you a lot for at least 2 years.

  • You have tried Home Treatment without success.

  • Neither prescription nor nonprescription medications bring you relief.

  • Immunotherapy has been shown to be effective for the allergens identified by your skin tests.

Life-Threatening Allergic Reactions

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A few people have severe allergies to insect stings or to certain foods or drugs, especially antibiotics such as penicillin. For these people, the allergic reaction is sudden and severe and may cause breathing difficulty and a drop in blood pressure (anaphylactic shock).

An anaphylactic reaction is a medical emergency, and prompt care is needed. If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction, your doctor may suggest that you carry an epinephrine syringe (such as EpiPen or Ana-Kit) designed for giving yourself a shot that will decrease the severity of the reaction. If you have had an allergic reaction to a drug, wear a medical identification bracelet that will tell health professionals about your allergy in case you cannot.


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Home Treatment

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If you can discover the source of your allergies, avoiding that substance may be the best treatment. Keep a record of your symptoms and the plants, animals, foods, or chemicals that seem to trigger them.

General information about avoiding irritants:

  • Avoid yardwork (raking, mowing), which stirs up both pollen and mold. If you must do yard work, wear a mask and take an antihistamine beforehand.

  • Avoid smoking and inhaling other people's smoke.

  • Eliminate aerosol sprays, perfumes, room deodorizers, cleaning products, and other substances that may trigger allergy symptoms.

If your symptoms are seasonal and seem to be related to pollen:

  • Keep your house and car windows closed. Keep bedroom windows closed at night.

  • Limit the time you spend outside when pollen counts are high. Dogs and other pets may bring large amounts of pollen into your house.

If your symptoms are year-round and seem to be related to dust:

  • Keep your bedroom and other places where you spend a lot of time as dust-free as possible.

  • Avoid carpeting, upholstered furniture, and heavy draperies that collect dust. Vacuuming doesn't pick up house dust mites.

  • Cover your mattress and box spring with dust-proof cases and wipe them clean weekly. Avoid wool or down blankets and feather pillows. Wash all bedding in hot water once a week.

  • Consider using an air conditioner or air purifier with a special HEPA filter. Rent one before buying to see if it helps.

If your symptoms are year-round and are worse during damp weather, they may be related to mold or mildew:

  • Keep your home well ventilated and dry. Keep the humidity below 50 percent. Use a dehumidifier during humid weather.

  • Use an air conditioner, which removes mold spores from the air. Change or clean heating and cooling system filters regularly.

  • Clean bathroom and kitchen surfaces often with bleach to reduce mold growth.

If you are allergic to a pet:

  • Keep the animal outside, or at least out of your bedroom.

  • If your symptoms are severe, the best solution may be to find a new home for the pet.

Antihistamines and decongestants may relieve some allergy symptoms. Use caution when taking these drugs. See Decongestants See Antihistamines.

For more information about allergies, including immunotherapy, contact your local health unit or public health office, or your provincial Lung Association or Allergy/Asthma Association.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call 911 or seek emergency services immediately if you develop signs of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). The following severe symptoms may occur soon after you take a drug, eat a certain food, or are stung by an insect:

  • Lightheadedness (feeling like you might pass out).

    Food Allergies

    Less than 1 percent of adults have true food allergies. Most adverse reactions to foods are due to food intolerances, reactions to food additives, or food poisoning. Most true food allergies are to legumes, nuts, shellfish, eggs, wheat, and milk. An allergic reaction to a food can result in anaphylactic shock.

    By gradually introducing simple solid foods into your child's diet, you will be able to identify possible food allergies. Children often outgrow food allergies by age 6. If your child was allergic to a food when younger, try reintroducing it as he or she gets older (unless the reaction was severe).

  • Swelling around the lips, tongue, or face that is interfering with breathing or is getting worse.

  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing.

Call a health professional:

  • If your lips, tongue, or face are swollen, even if you are not having difficulty breathing and the swelling is not getting worse.

  • If there is significant swelling around the site of an insect sting (e.g., the entire arm or leg is swollen).

  • If you develop a skin rash, itching, feeling of warmth, or hives.

Call your doctor if allergy symptoms worsen over time and Home Treatment doesn't help. Your doctor may recommend stronger medication or allergy shots (immunotherapy).

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