Allergies

What is an allergy?

Allergy is a genetic condition that causes the body to respond to harmless substances in the environment as though they are harmful to the body. These substances are referred to as allergens. The body’s immune system recognizes the presence of allergens and starts a reaction to prevent their invasion. In most people this reaction is not a problem. However, in some the immune system overacts and identifies normally harmless particles as dangerous, producing an excessive reaction that causes inflammation. This inflammation is allergic rhinitis.

What are the symptoms of an allergy?

The most common symptoms of allergic inflammation are sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy nose, itchy eyes, hives, asthma, reoccurring sinus or ear infection.

What are the most common allergens?

Certain allergens are always present. These include house dust mites, household pet danders, and food. Symptoms from these allergens are frequently worse in the winter when the house is closed up.

Mold spores cause at least as many allergy problems as pollens and grow 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. Molds (yeast) are also common in foods, such as cheese and fermented beverages.

Seasonal allergies are caused by pollens of trees, grasses, and weeds. Colorful or fragrant flowering plants rarely cause allergy because their pollens are too heavy to be airborne.

Can allergies be serious?

Allergic patients show reduced resistance to respiratory infections and more severe symptoms when infections occur. Allergies are rarely life-threatening, but often cause lost work days, decreased work efficiency, poor school performance, and a negative effect on the enjoyment of life.

Allergy treatment

A number of medications are useful in the treatment of allergy including antihistamines, decongestants, and steroids. The medical management of allergy also includes counseling in proper environmental control. Based on a detailed history and thorough examination, our physicians may advise testing to determine the specific substances to which you are allergic. We can test using either skin or blood methods to determine the sources of allergies and assess how to manage them. This testing will indicate the materials to which you are allergic and the degree of your sensitivity to them. The only “cure” available for inhalant allergy is the administration of injections or oral drops that build up protective antibodies to specific allergens (pollens, molds, animal dander, etc.). Your choice of injections or drops will be discussed with you to determine the most effective and economical method for you.

You may also visit the AAO-HNS web site: entnet.org or AAOA’s web site: aaoaf.org