You are not alone if you suffer from allergies. Some 40 million Americans have them. In fact, more people see a doctor for allergies than for any other single illness in the United States.
Allergies tend to run in families and can occur at any age. They may disappear in childhood, only to reappear sometimes in adulthood.
WHAT IS AN ALLERGY?
An allergy is a condition in which a person reacts to substance that usually does not affect other people. There are hundreds of these substances which are called allergens. Common allergens, are often inhaled, such as pollens, dust, molds, and animal dander’s. Other allergens include foods, chemicals, drugs and some stinging insects. Infection, stress, temperature change, and exposure to smoke and chemical fumes may cause or worsen an allergic reaction.
Allergies affect people in may different ways Often people think of allergy as only “hay fever”, with sneezing, runny nose, nasal stuffiness, and itchy watery eyes. In fact many other troublesome conditions may be cased by allergy such as such as chronic “sinus” problems, post nasal drip and head congestion, frequent “colds”, recurring ear infections, chronic cough, and asthma.
Stomach and intestinal problems, many skin rashes, chronic headaches, fatigue and tiredness can be caused by allergies. These conditions are frequently the symptoms of allergy.
One way to understand what happens to your body when you have an allergy is to compare allergy to the way a dam works. Since allergies are usually inherited, you are born with a built-in-“dam”.
The water that backs up against a dam comes from rivers-large and small- that flow in different amounts at different times. When too much water flows, the dam may overflow. Compare the “dam” in your system with an allergic reaction and the rivers to allergens such as pollen, dust, or a certain food. When to many allergens flood your system, the dam overflows. This “overflow” results in the symptoms of allergy.
The dam level can be 99% full without overflowing, but at that point, just a small river flowing in can cause the dam to overflow. For example, in pollen season with the dam neat capacity, the eating of certain foods which normally do not cause symptoms can now cause them.
Decreasing the flow of the rivers into the dam by treating the cause, either by eliminating the allergen or getting allergy shots, can prevent the level from reaching the top of the dam. Antihistamines and other medications give only temporary relief and can be compared opening the dam’s sluice gates. Symptoms will come back as soon as the medications are stopped.
ALLERGY DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
Looking for the cause of allergies is like detective work. Lots of questions are asked, tests are done, the clues are put together sorted through, and the answer is found. The simpler the problem the easier it is to solve. More difficult ones take longer. Generally, the diagnosis and treatment of an allergy patient involves three phases: a medical evaluation, allergy testing and the appropriate allergy treatment.
THE MEDICAL EVALUATION
The medical evaluation will be carried out by both the physician and the allergy nurse. This includes a complete allergy history and physical examination. A decision will then be made by your doctor as to the appropriate allergy testing, You will also be given a “Food Diary” to take home and complete. At this time, if allergy symptoms are particularly bothersome, allergy medication may be prescribed.
Traditionally, skin tests have been used to diagnose allergy. These tests are time-consuming, awkward, painful, and often dangerous to many patients. In an attempt to remove these problems, medical science has turned to advanced computerized technology to allergy testing. Allergies can be identified and treated with the help of a laboratory blood test called the “RAST” test. This test measures the amount and kind of substances (called IgE antibodies) in the blood that can trigger allergies. This test is not affected by illness or medication. It is less dangerous, more precise, and more reliable than skin tests.
If it is determined that allergy testing is necessary, the first blood test to be ordered is an Inhalant Screening Panel. This panel contains six to eight of the most important and common inhalant allergens in the area.
If this initial screening test shows the presence of allergies, an Expanded Inhalant Panel containing additional inhalant allergens is performed. This is necessary to identify completely all other potential inhalant allergens.
If the initial screen does show inhalant allergy and the allergy history suggests the possibility of a food allergy, further testing may be required to find the offending food group(s). The Food Allergy Evaluation consists of testing for common foods, together with an analysis of the completed “Food Diary”
NOTE: Usually only one blood sample is necessary for all testing required.
The allergy treatment program usually consists of a short-term phase and a long-term phase. In the short phase, symptoms relieving medication(s) are given, if necessary. The long-term phase usually consists of immunotherapy (allergy shots) and avoidance measure for inhalant allergy. Dietary changes are recommended for food allergy.
Allergy immunotherapy consists of a series of injections containing small amounts of the causative allergen(s). For the first year, these injections are usually given weekly. Then depending on the response, they can be given every two to four weeks.
During this treatment, regular evaluations by the doctor are carried out every three months.
Allergies develop over many years, and they cannot be controlled overnight. It may take one to two years of injections for the best results.
Ultimately, about 80% of allergy patients benefit significantly from allergy immunotherapy.
Food allergies cannot be treated by injections. The usual treatment for the food allergies is to follow strictly a specially prepared and individualized elimination and / or rotation diet based on the Food Allergy Evaluation.
Dietary counseling is continued approximately every two weeks for about two to three months to ensure the most effective treatment of food allergies.