Runny nose. Sneezing. Itchy, watery eyes. Is it allergies or pulmonary hypertension (PH)? Members of myPHteam members share questions – and frustrations - about the source of their allergy symptoms.
One woman, who has been “coughing for a month” and blaming it on allergies, said, “Now I’m starting to wonder.” Another with “sinuses that have been [acting up] for four months” shared, “The allergist thinks it’s PH, not asthma.”
According to the PH Association, getting the correct diagnosis is key to identifying the proper treatment. Here’s how to tell the difference:
Symptoms of seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis, include runny noses, itchy eyes, rashes, hives, sneezing, scratchy throats, and coughs from post-nasal drip. Members say their allergies get triggered certain times of year, depending on pollen count or environmental allergens.
“We’ve had a lot of rain this year, so my allergies have been non-stop,” said one member of myPHteam. “I’ve been suffering from allergies, the pollen is really high here now,” shared another member.
Year-round allergies, also common among myPHteam members, are generally triggered by indoor allergens, such as dust, mold, dander, and others. “On top of PH, I’m allergic to cigarette smoke. My uncle-in-law smokes, so I’m confined to my room,” lamented one member. Another, who suffers from the same allergen, said, “I can't tolerate cigarettes or smoke either. I actually gag.”
Members with PH are also predisposed to conditions such as asthma and sinusitis, which produce allergy-like symptoms. “I have sinus problems, breathing issues, and I’m hurting all over,” said one member of myPHteam. “Had a sinus headache all day. Was very fatigued,” said another. “I have mild asthma related to my allergies that has been bothering me for quite a while,” explained one woman.
Some members of myPHteam discover they have allergies after a severe – and sometimes life-threatening - reaction. After giving birth to her first child one woman had a “terrifying” anaphylaxis reaction to penicillin – and briefly lost consciousness. Another member struggles with multiple food allergies: “Gluten, cow’s milk, casein, beef, and most seafood.” Still others report allergies to the contrast dyes used in medical imaging tests.
PH medication “allergies”
Some medications designed to slow progression of PH have known side effects that mimic allergy symptoms, such as nasal stuffiness. They include endothelin receptor antagonists (ERAs) - Tracleer (Bosentan), Letairis (Ambrisentan), and Opsumit (Macitentan) - as well as phosphodiestrerase-5 inhibitor Revatio (Sildenafil).
One man was perplexed about a “chronic stuffy nose, cough, and shortness of breath after four months on [the PH drug] Sildenafil.” Another member complained of “sinus problems, allergies and congestion” from her medication.
Some allergy-like symptoms may actually be caused by PH itself. Dry cough, shortness of breath, dizziness, swelling, fainting, and racing heartbeat that worsens over time may indicate that the disease is progressing.
“Been coughing a lot lately,” reported one member. Another responded, “Could be a symptom of PH - it was one of the first questions I was asked during diagnosis.”
Contact your PH care team immediately if breathing problems or dizziness persists.
Treating allergies with PH
Identifying seasonal allergy triggers starts with allergy testing, according to the PH Association. Nasal corticosteroids, sold over-the-counter as Claritin (Loratadine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine) or Allegra (Fexofenadine), are the first-line medicines for reducing inflammation in the nasal cavities, followed by antihistamines.
People with PH are advised to avoid seasonal allergy medications that constrict blood vessels, such as over-the-counter decongestants Sudafed (Phenylephrine) and nasal spray Afrin (Oxymetazoline).
Consult with your doctor before starting or changing allergy medications.
On MyPHTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with pulmonary hypertension, members talk about a range of personal experiences including allergies.
Here are some conversations about allergies:
Here is a questions-and-answer about allergies:
Can you relate? Have another topic you'd like to discuss or explore? Go to myPHteam today and start – or join – a conversation. You'll be surprised how many others share similar stories.
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