Approximately 50 million people in the US – nearly one in five – have allergies. This includes millions of children. Allergy symptoms can be more than bothersome or irritating. They can interfere with your day-to-day activities and sleep. Allergies are the most common reasons for loss of productivity, missed work or school, and overall poor quality of life. Allergies can first occur at any stage in life, from infancy to late adult. Asthma and Allergy Associates of Florida offers a variety of treatment options for our patients with allergies. We recommend you schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified allergists to find out what you’re allergic to and to review which treatment makes the most sense for you.
Common Allergy Symptoms
- Sinus Congestion
- Runny Nose
- Post Nasal Drip
- Itchy or Watery Eyes
Symptoms that may not be recognized as allergy-related include:
- Sore Throat
- Loss of Taste or Smell
- Low Productivity/Poor Concentration
- Sleep Disturbances
Allergies are triggered by a variety of things, including pollen, dust, mold, and/or food.
An allergy skin test is the best, most accurate way to determine the extent of your allergies, as well as a treatment plan. Our doctors also referred to as allergists, will create with you a customized treatment plan, that can include medications, environmental control, and/or immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, tablets, or drops.
What is an Allergy?
An allergy is a peculiar reaction to a substance than is not harmful or irritating to normal, non-allergic people. “Allergy,” however, is an often misunderstood term. Most people believe that an allergy refers to any uncomfortable reaction to a substance that is inhaled, ingested, or applied to the skin. Symptoms that are attributed to allergy include sneezing, wheezing, nasal irritation, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose, heartburn, bloating, diarrhea, and a variety of skin rashes.
The main confusion is that some substances can cause these symptoms in a non-allergic way. Examples of non-allergic reactions would be inhaling cigarette smoke (causing sneezing because of simple irritation) and ingesting milk (causing bloating because of a deficiency of an enzyme that helps digest sugars in the milk). Further complicating the issue is that a substance like milk can also cause true allergic reactions including hives and wheezing.
In fact, “allergy” implies that the body’s immune system is responding to a substance, or allergen, in such a way that it leads to some of the symptoms mentioned above. This occurs when the immune system sends white blood cells (as well as other cells and chemical mediators) to the site of the body where it encounters an allergen. These cells and chemicals cause the changes in the tissues that lead to allergic-type symptoms. Examples of allergens include tree pollen, cat dander, dust mites, and several foods.
A requirement of such an allergic immune response is that the immune system be able to recognize a substance as being foreign – not normally present in the body. Put simply, the substance must contain molecules with certain characteristics (having a protein or large carbohydrate structure, for example) to enable it to be recognized by the immune system and give rise to an allergic response. This explains why the runny nose caused by cold air in some is not a true allergic phenomenon. People with allergic inflammation in their noses, however, are often more troubled by irritants such as smoke. A useful analogy is the following: Salt poured on intact, healthy skin causes no discomfort, but if you pour salt on an open wound it is quite painful.
Why allergy occurs in the first place is still a mystery. Some believe that allergy is simply a mistake of the immune system. That is, the immune system may “believe” that an allergen is an infectious organism such as a bacteria or virus. Consequently, the immune system sends those white blood cells (such as lymphocytes) and chemicals to the tissues to ward off this false infection. Nasal congestion, for instance, might represent the immune system’s attempt to restrict the allergen (thinking it’s a virus or bacteria) from gaining deeper entry into the body.
Researchers have noted that there is an increase in the proportion of people suffering from allergies. Some believe that air pollution and heavier exposure to indoor allergens (spending more time inside tightly insulated homes) is to blame. Another interesting theory is that allergies are our society’s trade off for being so sanitary. That is, our immune system is not as busy fighting off genuine infections as much as before, with the consequence being more frequent mistaken allergic immune responses. This theory is interesting in light of the lower incidence of allergy seen in poorer parts of the world with more exposure to parasitic infections.
Finally, the question is what to do about treating allergic symptoms? First, it is important to determine what a person may be allergic to. The diagnosis can sometimes be made by the patient’s history alone, but allergy skin tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis. The next step is to avoid exposure to the allergens. For food allergies this is the only scientifically proven treatment. But for airborne allergens, medications can be very helpful since it may be impossible to totally avoid exposure. In addition to medications, immunotherapy (allergen injections) can be an effective remedy.
Don’t suffer from untreated allergies. Schedule an appointment today with one of our board-certified allergists, and move towards a clearer tomorrow.
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