The Dangers of Diagnosing... Yourself (or Each Other)

  • I answer questions and comments here on this site on a daily basis, and I'm concerned. It seems that many people stop here first, in an effort to diagnose their own allergies, asthma, and other related conditions. While it's great that HealthCentral can be such an informational resources for our communities, diagnosing yourself is fraught with pitfalls.


    First off, though both allergies and asthma do have some hallmark symptoms (as follows), those symptoms can also signify other diagnoses as well. Diagnosing any kind of illness does require medical expertise. It also requires an examination and detailed health history, and sometimes, tests.

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    So, while you can certainly come here for advice and to learn more about various conditions, please don't rely on our community, not even those of us who are experts, to give you a definite diagnosis.


    I just read a comment on one community member's sharepost, telling her that she did not have the allergies her ENT specialist had diagnosed, but that she definitely had acid reflux. This concerns me, because it could have influenced the woman's decision to abandon her current treatment plan in search of something else. Luckily, that didn't happen, but it certainly might have, especially since she was still in search of answers.


    The Hallmark Symptoms of Nasal Allergies

    • Sneezing
    • Nasal congestion
    • Runny nose
    • Itchy nose, mouth, throat

    Eye allergies are closely related and can also cause itchy, burning, tearing eyes as well.


    Symptoms of Asthma

    • Wheezing
    • Chronic cough
    • Chest tightness
    • Shortness of breath

    Most people who have allergies and/or asthma have some combination of those symptoms, though not necessarily all of them. But -- and this is a big but -- other conditions can cause some of those same symptoms, including the common cold, sinus infections, the flu and emphysema.


    So, just having those symptoms is not enough for a diagnosis. As I mentioned above, a doctor would want to examine you, listen to your lungs, ask you about your personal and family medical history and possibly perform some pulmonary function tests to learn more about what is going on in your body.


    The Real Danger


    While diagnosing yourself incorrectly is dangerous enough, because it can cause you to overlook something more serious or different, the real danger is that you will not get the correct treatment. And again, only a health  care professional should be deciding -- with you -- on the correct treatment for the correct diagnosis.


    There's no point in taking allergy medicine if you don't have allergies, even though it IS available over the counter. And it would be a real shame to not get prompt treatment for some other problem, because you are not aware you have it.


    So, please call your personal physician if you have developed a new health problem/issue that becomes bothersome. Even if it turns out to be nothing, you will have addressed it. And, if it something more serious, then you'll get the treatment you need more quickly.


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    I'm not a fan of going to the doctor myself. It's expensive when you don't have health insurance and I just don't enjoy the whole experience. But I know that it is necessary, and safer, when I am dealing with new problems.

Published On: February 28, 2009