Allergic Conditions and Treatments
The immune system is your personal bodyguard, it protects your body from harmful invaders, like viruses. Sometimes this bodyguard can be overprotective and treat harmless things, such as pollen, as if they are dangerous. This results in an allergic reaction.
The most common symptoms in an allergic reaction are:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itching (in nose, mouth, throat, or eyes)
- Post nasal drip
- Watery eyes
Less common allergy symptoms include:
- Loss of taste and smell, and bad breath
- Low productivity/Poor concentration
- Sleep disturbances
If one or both parents have allergies, your child has an increased risk of developing them. If untreated, allergy symptoms can develop into sinus or ear infections.
Allergy symptoms can be more than bothersome or irritating. They can interfere with your day-to-day activities and sleep. Allergies can result in loss of productivity, missed work or school, and an overall poor quality of life.
Seeking the help of an allergist is the key to treating your allergies.
Allergy triggers, or allergens, are things that cause allergy symptoms to act up. Some triggers are seasonal, while others are year-round.
Seasonal Allergy Triggers
- Weeds, trees and grasses – Plants and trees release their pollen into the air, which is spread by the wind. Pollen counts are highest on dry, windy days.
- Outdoor Mold Spores – Mold grows from spring to late fall on rotting logs, fallen leaves, compost, and mulch. Mold spores also float in the air.
Year-round allergy triggers
- Indoor mold spores – Mold grows in damp rooms, like the bathroom, kitchen, or basement.
- Animal dander – Found in the saliva and skin oil of animals.
- Dust Mites – Microscopic bugs that live in household items such as curtains, bedding, mattresses, and carpets.
- Cockroaches – Their droppings can cause allergy symptoms.
The same allergen can trigger both conditions. For example, if you are allergic to pollen and you inhale it, your bronchial tubes experience an allergic reaction that can lead to an asthma attack. This is called allergic asthma.
The first time you are exposed to an allergen your immune system reacts by producing antibodies to protect itself. The antibodies attach to mast cells, which are found mainly in the skin, tongue, nose, eyes, lungs, and intestinal tract. The next time you are exposed to these allergens, the antibodies capture them and signal the mast cells to release chemical responders, such as histamine and leukotrienes.
These chemicals produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Symptoms vary depending on where in the body the chemicals are released.
Allergies and colds share a lot of the same symptoms, but they are different conditions.
|Cause||Exposure to an allergen||Exposure to a virus|
|Symptoms||Sneezing, runny, itchy or stuffy nose, watery eyes, coughing, itchy throat, Clear mucus||Sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, coughing, sore, scratchy throat, yellow-colored mucus, dull headache, muscle aches|
|Durations||As long as you are exposed to the allergen||2 to 14 days|
There are wide ranges of medications on the market including antihistamines, decongestants, steroid nasal sprays, etc. Depending on your allergens and the degree to which you suffer, a specialized allergy treatment plan will be recommended.
|What They Do||How They Work|
|Oral and Nasal Antihistamines||Relieve sneezing, runny nose, and itchy nose and eyes.||Block histamines, which cause allergy symptoms|
|Relieve symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose and congestions||Block the effects of leukotrienes, which cause allergy symptoms|
|Nasal Corticosteroids||Improve nasal symptoms, including itching, runny nose and congestion||Reduce and control swelling in the nose|
|Decongestants||Reduce congestion and mucus production||Reduce swelling in the nose|
The allergist will conduct a patient history including an assessment of your symptoms, a relevant physical exam, and a thorough environmental evaluation. The allergist will also conduct skin allergy testing procedures to determine what causes your allergies. Substances such as dust mites, pollen, mold, and pet dander are considered common allergens. This skin test is effective to evaluate both inhalant allergens and food allergens.
A skin test is a simple procedure that is best described as small scratches that are given on the surface of the skin on your back. The scratches are conducted with a small instrument, similar to a plastic toothpick that contains a tiny amount of a common allergen. If you are allergic to a substance, a small bump will appear. For those patients who do not react to this type of skin test, an intradermal skin test may be performed (similar to a TB test).
With allergy testing, the allergist can determine your specific allergy profile. Because everyone is unique in what their specific allergic triggers are, knowing your specific allergies is important for the effective treatment of allergies.
Once the allergist knows the allergens that are causing your symptoms, an effective treatment plan can be recommended. These treatment plans include:
- Avoidance of allergens
- Allergy shots
The air we breathe contains many small particles such as pollen, mold spores, and pet dander.
Unseen microscopic allergens, especially those containing biological matter, such as house dust, mite debris, animal dander, and mold, are known to aggravate allergic reactions in sensitive people. Allergic reactions can worsen the symptoms of asthma, colds, and other respiratory conditions.
Obviously you aren't expected to live life in a bubble, but there are things that can be done to minimize your exposure to specific allergens. For example, if you are allergic to dust, you can dust-proof your bedroom by using an allergy-proof mattress and pillow covers. If you are allergic to pollen and/or grass, you can keep your windows closed and shower immediately following outdoor activities. There are many ways to cut down on the allergens in your environment. Talk to your allergist about any information that he can provide on allergen avoidance.
Tips for Pet Lovers
- Wash pet bedding every week
- Keep pets out of bedrooms
- Wash hands after touching pets
- If possible, shampoo dogs and cats weekly.
- The best pets for children with pet allergies are those without fur or feathers.
- Consider investing in a high-efficiency vacuum filter system.
No Smoking Please!
Don't smoke indoors or in a car or allow anyone else to do so, especially if children are present.
- Buy washable toys and wash them frequently in hot water to kill dust mites.
- Use allergen-control covers on all pillows, mattresses, futons and sofas.
- Wash bedding every week in hot water
- Replace blinds with washable curtains or use window shades made of plastic, wood, or other washable materials.
- Remove carpet from your bedroom. Replace with hardwood or tile.
- Store stuffed animals in plastic bins.
- Vacuum floors and dust surfaces weekly with a damp cloth.
- Keep damp rooms well ventilated to reduce humidity. After taking a shower, open a window or use an exhaust fan.
- Keep indoor humidity between 40 and 50 percent. If you use a dehumidifier, clean it so mold does not grow on the inside.
- Limit the number of plants in your home. Damp soil grows mold.
- Remove any carpets in damp areas, like the bathroom.
- Clean moldy surfaces with bleach and repair any leaks.
Outdoor Triggers – pollen from weeds, trees, grasses and mold spores.
- Keep car and house windows closed when pollen or mold counts are high.
- Limit time outdoors when pollen counts are high.
- Try to stay inside from 5am to 10am, when pollen counts are highest.
- Take a bath, wash hair, and change clothes before going to bed and after being outdoors.
- Use central air conditioning and a HEPA filter.
- Clean up fallen leaves, and try to avoid lawn work, which can stir up mold spores.
- Fix any leaks outside that might make surfaces wet and allow mold to grow.
Allergies can be treated, but not cured because they are a natural immune system reaction. There are several types of allergy treatment medications available, both over-the-counter and prescription, to help ease annoying symptoms like congestion and runny nose. Allergy shots, which gradually increase your ability to tolerate allergens, are also available.
Allergy injections, also referred to as immunotherapy, are in essence a vaccination. As you are exposed to small, injected amounts of a particular allergen, you gradually decrease your sensitivity and build up your immunity to the specific substances to which you are allergic.
Allergy shots consist of a series of injections given once or twice a week for 6 to 12 months in the build-up phase. They are continued for 3 to 5 years during the maintenance phase. During this phase the injections are given every one to four weeks.
Allergies can be underlying cause of frequent sinus, ear, and upper and lower respiratory tract infections. Untreated allergies can even exacerbate or cause asthma; The Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology states, "Approximately 80 percent of all asthma in children and half of all asthma in adults is caused by allergies".
Allergies are responsible for symptoms that may make it difficult for you to concentrate and result in a loss of productivity. The loss of productivity can filter into your work, school, and home life. Don't let your allergies control you; take control of your allergies!
Food allergies affect 4% of all Americans.
How to recognize a severe allergic reaction
If you are allergic to certain foods, eating just a small amount may cause your throat or tongue to quickly swell up and make breathing difficult. A severe allergic reaction of this type is called anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis can occur as a result of coming into contact with certain foods, including peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish. If you are allergic to one or more of these foods, everyday situations, like eating at a restaurant, could put you at risk for a severe allergic reaction. There is really no way to predict how severe a future reaction might be.
A reaction can be so severe that your life may be at risk. Therefore, the reaction needs immediate attention. That is why you, members of your family, friends, or a caregiver should be aware of the triggers and symptoms of anaphylaxis and know what to do if an anaphylactic emergency occurs.
Identifying an emergency - one or more of the following symptoms usually characterizes a severe allergic reaction:
- Metallic taste or tingling in the mouth
- Swelling of the tongue, lips, or throat
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Abdominal cramps
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Rash or itchy skin
- Coughing or wheezing
- Loss of consciousness
- Increased heart rate
- Dizziness or sudden weakness
Common Food Allergens - Peanuts cause the most food-related severe allergic reactions. Other common food allergies are to tree nuts including, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cow's milk, eggs, seafood, soybeans, and wheat.
Many people have been bitten or stung by insects, and some experience uncomfortable reactions as a result. Bee stings, mosquitoes, fire ants and scorpions are some of the most common. The venom from stinging and biting insects can also trigger a severe allergic reaction.
Which Stinging Insects Cause Venom Allergies?
Allergic reactions to flying, stinging insects (honeybees, hornets, wasps and yellow jackets) are relatively common. Most people who are stung by these insects will develop a reaction at the site of the sting that will cause pain, swelling, redness, and itching. A smaller percent of people (about 10 to 15%) may experience larger areas of swelling, which can last up to a week. Some people can even have full-blown allergic reactions that cause anaphylaxis. About 0.5% of children and 3% of adults will experience anaphylaxis after a stinging insect bite. In addition, about 40 people in the United States die every year from a venom allergy, and this number is probably a low estimate because insect sting deaths are often attributed to other causes. Most of these deaths occurred in people without a known history of venom allergy. Still, keep in mind this is a very small number of people.
Signs of Anaphylaxis
When someone has whole-body (systemic or anaphylaxis) allergic reactions to insect stings, they may experience any or all of the following symptoms, usually within a matter of minutes to a few hours:
- Itching all over
- Hives or swelling that spreads from the site of the sting
- Runny nose, sneezing or post-nasal drip
- Itchy/watery eyes
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing
- Stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Lightheadedness, fast heart rate, low blood pressure, or passing out
- Sense of panic or metallic taste in the mouth
How Do I Avoid Being Stung?
Put simply, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid being stung. Here are a few tips:
- Hire a trained exterminator to treat any known nests in the immediate area; periodic surveillance for further infestation should be performed.
- Do not wear brightly colored clothing, flowery prints, or perfumes or other scents that will attract insects.
- Always wear shoes when walking outside, particularly on grass
- Wear pants, long-sleeved shirts, gloves, close-toed shoes, and socks when working outdoors
- Use caution when working around bushes, shrubs, trees, and trash cans
- Always check food and drinks (especially open cans of soda or drinks with straws) before consuming, especially at pools and picnics, where yellow jackets are known to be present
- Keep an insecticide, approved for use on stinging insects available in case a nest is found
Be prepared, have an Epi Pen
In case of a severe reaction, the recommended treatment is an epinephrine injection that is available only by prescription. Injecting the medicine during an emergency may give you the time you need to get to a hospital emergency room for evaluation and any additional treatment.
- Administer the shot of epinephrine (Epi Pen).
- Call 911 and get to the emergency room as quickly as possible.
- Call your doctor when your condition is under control.