What You Should Know About Allergies

Most would agree that some years are worse than others, and this year Nany feel like their allergies are going to get the best of them. Even though we have seen just about every kind of weather possible this "spring," (I won't call it spring yet!) everything seems to be blooming already. That means that for those who suffer with allergies and chronic sinus infections, this time of year (and fall) can be very frustrating and miserable. Allergies are not classified routinely looked at or classified as a debilitating illness. However, like many others i have talked to this spring, I am starting to feel like it possibly could be in that classification. I have been doing some research on this topic the last week or more, so I wanted to share a few of the things I've learned.

It seems that the best place to start this article is to start with a few definitions. I want to provide knowledge for those who may not suffer or those who may not be aware of what allergies are or can be! So let's start with what an allergy is. By definition- an allergy is when a person's immune system reacts to some kind of foreign substance, that is know as an allergen. An allergen could be things that can be eaten, inhaled into your lungs, touched, or injected into your body! Specific response can cause anything from sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose all the way to severe reactions that cause hives, low blood pressure, trouble breathing and even death! Examples of possible allergens are dust, mold, trees, grass, ragweed, pollen and food allergens such as milk, egg, soy, wheat, nuts it fish proteins.

How many people suffer from allergies every year?!? Any guesses? I was shocked to find out that allergies have been found to be the SIXTH leading cause of Chronic Illness in the US alone. This can lead to an annual cost healthcare costs of an excess of $18 BILLION dollars. It is estimated that 40- 50 MILLION Americans have allergies of some kind every year!! People of all ages can struggle with asthma, allergic rhinitis, food allergies, and eczema. Asthma is said to affect more than 24 million people in the US, including more than 6 million kids.

I'm just guessing that everyone could probably name at least 5 people right off the top of your head if you were asked who you know that suffers from allergies!! One would think that due to the fact that so many million people suffer with allergies that is would be easily treated by any medical provider. While that may be true for the every day Joe who suffers from seasonal allergies. But for those who have severe allergies that don't respond to the over the counter meds and treatment, or has allergy based asthma, a specialized doctor is necessary. A doctor who specializes in allergies and asthma would be the best person to see. Simply because these providers received specialized education and training in these conditions. They are able to perform allergy testing, accurately diagnose your symptoms, and develop a personalized diagnosis for your specific allergies and conditions.

There are two key steps in diagnosing your allergies. One would be to take a full and thorough medical history, and the the second would be doing actually allergy testing. You are probably wondering why a full medical history would be important. That's simply because when it comes to HUMAN allergies the person's medical history is just as important as the actual testing. The history provides a link between the test results and the actual allergies. The history can help the provider to see what allergies your family might have and to see what certain medications, in or outside settings or food seems to make your symptoms worse. While the provider is taking your history you might be asked about the following:

  • Your overall health
  • Your symptoms and if your immediate family have asthma or allergies such as skin rashes, eczema, hives or hay fever.
  • Your symptoms. They provider will most likely want to know when your symptoms occur( what you are doing and where you are at), how often they happen, what brings them on and what if anything makes your symptoms better. The allergist may also want to know about your home and work environments and eating habits to see if they might lead to your exact allergies.

After the provider has taken a very thorough history, testing will most likely be done. Allergy testing has become the gold standard in the diagnosis of allergies. Blood and skin tests are used to detect a person's sensitivity to common allergens. They can show allergies to things like pollen, dust mites, animals, ragweed, certain foods, latex, certain trees or plants. In most cases skin tests have proven to be the most accurate and preferred way to diagnose a person's allergies. Blood tests are generally ordered less often, but they could be used in cases of severe skin rashes, or if the person can not stop a medication that can possibly interferes with the skin testing. Allergy tests basically give reliable results that confirm information that the provider gathered while taking the medical history.

After you've had a positive allergy test and you and your provider are aware of what allergens you react to, it is time to develop an individual plan of care. According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America there are many options for treatment depending on the specific allergy and the severity of the allergy/reaction. The foundation states that the treatment of allergies can include: avoiding allergens, medication options and immunotherapy (which can be given as a shot or a tablet placed under the tongue.

You may be thinking what I was when I read through my research, HOW ON EARTH DO I AVOID ALL ALLERGENS THAT IMPACT ME?!?!? That being said the AAFA says that the best way for a person with allergies to prevent allergy symptoms and decreased the required amount of medications is to AVOID your allergens as often as possible. They say that doing this can include removing the source of allergens from home and other places you spend large amounts of time. So if you are allergic to pet dander either remove said pet from the inside of the house or look for hypoallergenic types of animals. They also suggest routine nasal washings to help reduce symptoms brought on by airborne allergens. This can be done by doing a nasal saline rinse using a squeeze bottle or Neti Pot. (Side note if you are going to do nasal rinses you should always use only bottled water or boiled tap water. Never tap water that hasn't been boiled)

If the avoidance technique does not work for you, there are medications available. Not everyone is okay with taking anything for allergies, simply because they don't think it's a big deal. However, not treating your allergies can turn into much bigger and more painful issues like sinus & ear infections. Below you will find a list of classes if medication that can be taken to help with allergy symptoms.

  • Nasal Corticosteroids, aka nose spray- Work by reducing swelling which can cause a stuffy, runny, itchy nose. This option is the most effective for those suffering from nasal allergies.
  • Antihistamines- Do just what the name says. They block histamine which is a trigger for allergic swelling. This type of meds may reduce sneezing, itchy runny noses and hives. These meds come in a variety of forms, and often time can be found over the counter as pills, liquids, melting tabs, creams or nose spray.
  • Mast cell stabilizers - This classification of meds work by keeping your body from releasing histamine (that is a cause of allergies). By blocking the production it helps with itchy, watery eyes, or an itchy, runny nose! This group is available as eye drops or nose sprays.
  • Decongestants - This group of meds works by reducing stuffiness by shrinking swollen membranes in the nose. One has to be cautious with these meds. As they can, if used more than prescribed, cause the stuffiness and swelling in the nose to worsen.
  • Corticosteroid creams &/or ointments - These products relieves itchiness and can prevent rashes from spreading.
  • Oral Corticosteroids- This type of medication has to be prescribed and may be used to reduce swelling and stop severe allergic reactions. These medications do have well known side effects so be sure to talk to your doctor or your pharmacist.
  • Epinephrine - This comes as pre-measured and also self injectable devices. This is the most important medicine to give during a severe allergic reactions (aka anaphylaxis). For this medicine to work properly it must be given/taken within minutes of the first sight of a serious allergic reaction. If you know you have a severe allergy to food, any kind of stinging insect, latex or medications, you need to make sure you always carry EPI pen with you. And that friends/family know how to use it if you are unable to.

Another method of treatment for allergies is Immunotherapy. Currently there are two types of immunotherapy that can be used to treat allergies. They are allergy shots and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)

  • Allergy Shots- This method of treatment involves giving injections of allergens in increasing doses over a long period of time. By doing this the person receiving the shots progressively becomes less sensitive to the allergens given in the shot! Allergy shots work best for those who have allergies to pollen, pets, dust, bees and other stinging insects and asthma. However, those who have allergies to food, feathers, hives or eczema will not likely to respond well to shots.
  • SLIT - This is another method for treating certain allergies without injections. When using this modality for treatment, an allergist will give patients small doses of an allergen under the tongue. Over time the exposure will improve tolerance to the the allergens thus reducing symptoms. This method overall is fairly safe and effective for treating nasal allergies and asthma. Currently SLIT is only available for the treatment of dust mites, grass and ragweed!

I don't know about you but I am feeling a little overloaded at the moment. I have provided you with lots of information on allergies. I hope that my research has provided you with more information about allergies, treatment and diagnosis. I know I learned a lot. I must include this disclaimer, the information provided in this article is just for self education and gaining knowledge about allergies. That being said you should never start a new treatment method without first speaking with your doctor or getting a referral to an allergist. It is a fair assessment that many people will suffer from some kind of allergy during their lifetime. However, like most medical conditions everyone's journey with their allergies will be different. And what treatment works for you may not work for Your kids. While doing research for this article I came across The American College of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology. They have a fabulous website that provides so much great information and is easy to understand. Click the link above if you want to learn more.

If you have any questions or comments on this post feel free to share them in the comment section below. And feel free to share with anyone who might benefit.

With Love,

Amber