Millions of Americans suffer from nasal allergies, commonly known as hay fever. Often fragrant flowers are blamed for the uncomfortable symptoms, yet they are rarely the cause. An ear, nose, and throat specialist can help determine the substances causing your discomfort and can develop a management plan that will help make life more enjoyable.
Why does the body develop allergies?
Allergies are abnormal physical reactions 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.
Allergy symptoms appear when the immune system reacts to an allergen that enters the body as though it were an unwelcome invader. The immune system produces special antibodies capable of recognizing the same allergic substance if it enters the body at a later time. When an allergen reenters the body, the immune system recognizes it and causes a series of reactions. These reactions often include tissue destruction, blood vessel dilation, and production of inflammatory substances, like histamine. Histamine produces common allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, nasal and sinus congestion, headaches, sneezing, scratchy throat, hives, and shortness of breath. Other less common symptoms are balance disturbances, skin irritations such as eczema, and respiratory problems like asthma.
What are some common allergens?
Pollens, food, mold, dust, feathers, and animal dander commonly cause people to suffer allergic reactions.
One of the most significant causes of allergic rhinitis in the United States is ragweed. Ragweed begins pollinating in late August and continues until the first frost. Late springtime pollens come from grasses, including Timothy, Bermuda, and Johnson. Early springtime hay fever is most often caused by pollens of trees such as elm, maple, birch, beech, oak, hickory, and cottonwood. Colorful or fragrant flowering plants rarely cause allergy symptoms because their pollens are too heavy to be airborne.
Certain allergens are present all year long. These include house dust, pet danders, some foods, and chemicals. Symptoms from these are frequently worse in the winter when the house is closed up and there is poor ventilation.
Mold spores can also cause allergy problems. Molds are present all year long and grow both outdoors and indoors. Dead leaves and farm areas are common sources for outdoor molds. Indoor plants, old books, bathrooms, and damp areas are common sources of indoor mold growth. Mold is also common in foods such as cheese and fermented beverages.
Types of Allergy Testing
Allergy testing is performed using a combination of skin pricks and intradermal bubbles. Testing is done on the surface of the arm and there is minimal discomfort to the patient. Test results are available when the session is completed. If food allergy testing is indicated, a sample of blood will be sent to the lab. The lab analyzes the blood for presence of food allergies. This particular test method is called RAST. These results are generally available in seven to ten business days.
Allergy Treatment Options
Allergies are rarely life threatening, but often cause lost work days, decreased work efficiency, poor school performance, and a negative impact on quality of life. For some, allergy symptoms may be seasonal, but for others it is a year-round discomfort.
Allergy symptom control is most successful when multiple management approaches are used simultaneously. These approaches may include minimizing exposure to allergens, desensitization with allergy shots, and medications.
If used properly, medications, including antihistamines, nasal decongestant sprays, steroid sprays, saline sprays, and cortisone-type preparations can be helpful. Even over-the-counter drugs can be beneficial, but some may cause drowsiness.
If these medications are unsuccessful at controlling symptoms, then allergy immunotherapy may be considered. When you get allergy shots, small doses of the substances that you are allergic to are injected into your arm. This helps your immune system build a tolerance to the allergens.
At first, allergy shots are given once a week as you are in the building stage. When you receive allergy shots, you must stay in the office for 15 to 20 minutes to be observed for any reaction to the shots. Redness and warmth at the shot site are common but go away after a short period of time.
You may need to get allergy shots for three to five years. During your treatment, you will see your physician at least once every six months to evaluate the effectiveness of immunotherapy.