A few facts about Allergies:
You are not alone if you suffer from allergies, in fact, millions of Americans have them. Allergies can appear at any age and can even disappear in childhood, only to reappear in adulthood. Allergy is a condition, often inherited, in which the immune system of the affected person reacts to something eaten or in the environment. People often think of allergy as only “hayfever”, with sneezing, runny nose, nasal stuffiness and itchy, watery eyes. However, allergies can also cause symptoms such as chronic sinus problems, postnasal drip, head congestion, frequent colds, recurring ear infections, hearing loss, dizziness, chronic cough and asthma. Even stomach and intestinal problems, many skin rashes, chronic headaches and fatigue can be symptoms of allergies.
An Otolaryngic Allergist is also an ear, nose and throat specialist and is able to efficiently diagnose and treat disorders of the upper respiratory tract (ear, nose and throat) caused by allergic conditions.
The following represent circumstances under which a patient should seek a consultation with an Otolaryngic Allergist:
- When suffering from an ear, nose or throat symptom.
- When allergy or ear, nose or throat symptoms are not adequately controlled.
- When special diagnostic allergy tests are needed.
- When specialized treatment such as immunotherapy is needed.
- When other related ear, nose and throat medical problems, such as chronic sinusitis, nasal polyps, fluid in the middle ear, chronic ear infections, deviated septum, vocal disturbances, or enlarged adenoids or tonsils may be present.
- When complications associated with treatment or difficulty in controlling allergy symptoms are affecting the patient’s quality of life.
If you think you have allergies, talk to one of our physicians. Your physician will take a detailed history of your symptoms and living habits and give you a physical exam. When allergy is suspected, only an allergy test can tell you for sure if you are allergic and what might be triggering your symptoms.
Allergy skin testing identifies the specific allergens triggering your problem, allowing better avoidance and reduction of your symptoms. Allergy skin testing is a relatively pain free process performed by applying allergens on the skin (of the forearm) with a gentle skin based applicator and then under the skin with a very small injection. If a welt appears at the testing site, there is sensitivity to that particular allergen. For young patients or patients who are on medications that prevent them from being skin tested, we also offer in-vitro (blood) allergy testing. These simple allergy testing methods give your physician the information required to design an effective treatment plan tailored to your specific needs, using a combination of avoidance techniques, medications and possibly allergy shots.
Once you know what’s causing your allergy symptoms, our physicians can help you decide which course of treatment is best for you. A negative result from your allergy test means you and your doctor will need to further investigate possible causes. If you have a positive allergy test, there are three possible approaches your doctor can take:
- Avoidance of the offending allergens (the things to which you are allergic);
- Pharmacotherapy (prescribed medications); and
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots)
The first and most basic treatment step is eliminating or avoiding contact with the allergens causing your symptoms. Our allergy nursing staff will educate you on several easy techniques you may use to help improve your allergy problems. Unfortunately, avoiding some allergens (such as dust, molds and animals) is often difficult and thus allergen avoidance alone may not be effective.
Medications frequently control allergy symptoms - these may include antihistamines, anti-leukotrienes, decongestants and nasal steroid sprays.
Immunotherapy is a treatment program designed to reduce allergic sensitivity to environmental allergens including pollen, dust mites, mold spores and animal dander. It is an excellent treatment option for patients whose symptoms are not improved on medications or for patients who cannot avoid the specific allergens affecting them – like a favorite pet or dust/mold in the workplace. Also, allergen immunotherapy is the only treatment option with the potential to cure an allergy. Immunotherapy is a popular choice for patients who prefer to avoid the potential side-effects of medications or want to avoid taking medications on a long-term basis. Clinical studies have shown that 80-90% of patients’ allergies improve and that the treatment remains effective for many years after shots are discontinued. The immunotherapy process consists of receiving injections of small amounts of the allergens which are causing your allergy symptoms. Injections begin once or twice weekly with weaker solutions, advancing to shots of progressively stronger solutions until maintenance level is reached. The allergen injections “teaches” the body’s immune system not to respond in an allergic manner to the offending substances. Over time, it’s possible to lower the body’s “allergic response” to these environmental allergens, both improving symptoms and decreasing the need for medications. The total duration of the immunotherapy treatment varies by patient, but most patients are treated for 3 to 5 years.
For additional information on allergy testing and treatment, please feel free to ask any of our physicians about your treatment options.