What are Allergies?
Approximately 20% of the U.S. population has one or more types of allergies. Allergy symptoms account for more visits to the doctor’s office than any other single disease and are a leading cause of school absence in our country.
Allergies are abnormal physical reactions that you experience when you are exposed to substances (allergens) to which you have developed an allergy. These substances are usually harmless and do not produce symptoms in non-allergic people.
The tendency to become allergic can be inherited. Studies have shown that you have a 50% chance of becoming allergic if one of your parents had allergies. If both of your parents were allergic, your chance of developing allergies is as high as 80%.
Your body produces antibodies to ward off infection and other diseases. When your immune system misidentifies this harmless substance, it begins building anti-bodies toward that specific substance. In the end, these antibodies trigger your allergic symptoms when you are re-exposed to that substance. The measurement of these antibodies is the key to effective allergy diagnosis and treatment.
The types of particles that we breathe in every day will vary due to location, moisture in the environment, and the time of year. Common causes of inhalant allergies are pollens from various Trees, Grasses, and Weeds – Mold spores – House dust particles – Animal hair and dander – Insect particles.
Foods you eat can also cause allergic reactions, but usually produce different symptoms. Substances that you come into contact with can also cause allergic reactions and are usually evident in the form of a rash on parts of your body.
What are the symptoms of ear, nose and throat allergies?
People often think of allergy as only “hay fever,” with sneezing, runny nose, nasal stuffiness and itchy, watery eyes. However, allergies can also cause symptoms such as chronic ”sinus” problems, excess nasal and throat drainage (post nasal drip), head congestion, frequent “colds,” hoarse voice, eczema (skin allergies), recurring ear infections, hearing loss, dizziness, chronic cough and asthma. Even stomach and intestinal problems as well as excessive fatigue can be symptoms of allergy. The greater the frequency and/or amount of exposure, the greater the chance that the susceptible person will develop an allergic problem that will require treatment.
Symptoms of ear, nose, and throat allergies may include:
• Repeated sneezing
• Nasal itching and rubbing
• Nasal congestion
• Runny nose
• Dark circles under the eyes
• Crease across bridge of nose
• Frequent throat clearing
• Mouth breathing
• Diminished/lost sense of smell/taste
• Recurrent, unexplained nosebleeds
• Recurrent ear infections
• Recurrent sinus infections
• Fluctuating hearing loss
• Cold-like symptoms more than 10 days
• Symptoms recur same time each year
• Chronic fatigue
• Symptoms can range from minor to severe.
Testing For Allergies
At our allergy clinic we perform a combination of intradermal and skin prick methods of allergy testing on our patients. Using the results of these tests we will make a custom treatment for each individual patient. This combined testing is called Modified Quantitative Testing.
What are the skin prick and intradermal testing methods?
This type of testing is the most common and is relatively painless. A very small amount of certain allergens is put into your skin by making a small indentation or “prick” on the surface of your skin.
If you have allergies, just a little swelling that looks and feels like a mosquito bite will occur where the allergen(s) to which you are allergic was introduced. For example, if you are allergic to ragweed pollen but not to cats, only the ragweed allergen will cause a little swelling or itching. The spot where the cat allergen was applied will remain normal.
You don’t have to wait long to find out what is triggering your allergies. Reactions occur within about 20 minutes. And you generally won’t have any other symptoms besides the small hives where the tests were done, which go away within 30 minutes. If your prick skin tests are negative but your physician still suspects you might have allergies, more sensitive “intradermal” tests may be used in which a small amount of allergen is injected within the skin.
Intradermal testing (IDT) is performed on the upper arms. Serums of various allergens (antigens) are used during testing. Antigens include animal danders, mold spores, and pollens of grasses, weeds and trees. A very small amount of each antigen is injected under the top layer of skin. Each dilution may take 10-15 minutes for a result. If a positive result is not seen, more dilutions of antigens may be applied. You will have your result at the end of your testing along with education materials to help you manage your symptoms.
The nurse or allergy technician then measures the results of the allergy testing and reports these finding to the doctor.
Immunotherapy, most commonly referred to as Allergy shots, is a program designed to desensitize you to those substances to which you are allergic. Allergy shots are a repeated injection of a sterile mixture that contains those substances identified as the causes of your allergies.
After several months of weekly injections of increasingly stronger doses, you will reach a maintenance dose and continue to receive that dose at regular intervals. The size of doses and length of intervals between doses depends greatly on your response to the injections. The goal with allergy shots is to provide complete symptom relief, however this is not a guarantee.
Most immunotherapy patients receive allergy injections for three to five years, but this may vary depending on the severity of their allergies. Compliance is also necessary in order to achieve the maximum benefit from treatment. Patients may begin to notice symptom improvement within a few weeks to months.
An ongoing program of avoidance, medication, immunotherapy, or a combination of these methods, under the direct supervision of your doctor is the best approach to controlling your allergies, allowing you to live more comfortably in your existing surroundings.