What to Do About Allergies
If you suspect you have an allergy, please don't self-medicate. Instead, see your physician. Your doctor will most likely ask detailed questions to try and identify whether a seasonal allergen is making you miserable.
The diagnostic approach will depend on the individual. If the problem is minor and seems to occur in a pattern, your physician may prescribe a medication to relieve symptoms and suggest ways to avoid the suspected allergen, or allergy testing (skin and blood tests) may be in order.
Skin testing helps your physician determine if there is an allergy to a specific substance (allergen). Extracts of diluted substances commonly found in the affected person's area (pollens, molds, etc.) are injected into his or her arm or back. If there's a positive reaction, a small, reddened and raised area (called a wheal) occurs. The most common blood test is called a RAST test, which tests to see if the person has antibodies (called IgE) to certain allergens.
Allergy Treatment Options
There are three basic approaches to allergies: avoidance, medications or shots. Even though there is no cure for allergies, one or more of these strategies should help provide some degree of relief from your symptoms.
Avoidance tactics may be very difficult (relocating or giving up your pet), and may only be temporarily effective. However, here are some tactics that might work.
Medication is often prescribed when avoidance measures don't work. Choices include antihistamines, decongestants (often used with antihistamines), nasal sprays, eye drops and inhalers. The type of drug(s) you receive depends upon your symptoms. As a side note, please do not use over-the-counter decongestant nose drops for more than a few days unless directed by your physician. These medications can have a rebound effect, which causes more nasal swelling and worsening symptoms.
Immunotherapy (allergy shots) can reduce symptoms for a longer period of time than other treatment options. As many of you know, this treatment involves a series of allergy shots that reduce the IgE antibodies in the blood, which trigger your body's reaction, and instead produces a protective antibody known as IgG. Many patients with allergic rhinitis experience symptom relief within 12 months. Some patients have experienced excellent long-term results after stopping the shots, while others have had to restart and continue the immunotherapy series.
For more information on allergies, please contact the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at 1-800-822-ASMA begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-800-822-ASMA end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
Copyright 2003, Dr. Rob Danoff
Robert Danoff, D.O., M.S., is a family physician. He is program director of Family Practice Residency Frankford Hospitals, Jefferson Health System, Philadelphia, Pa. He also is a medical correspondent for The Comcast Network, CN8, contributing writer to the New York Times and writes a weekly medical column for the Bucks Courier Times, Bucks County Pa.