Article Written by Ashish Asawa, M.D. FAAAAI
Allergies continue to be a challenge for millions of Americans. As a physician who deals with allergy patients on a daily basis, I consistently hear common questions. In an effort to keep our patients informed, we’ve put together some answers to those ongoing concerns.
What are the most common allergy symptoms?
- Sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, sinus pressure
- Watery and itchy eyes
- Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath
What causes allergies?
- An allergy is an exaggerated response from your immune system to a normally harmless substance. Common allergens include pollen, mold, dust mites and pet dander.
- For people who suffer from allergies, their immune system unleashes antibodies in response to allergen exposure. Antibodies are proteins designed to protect against foreign invaders. These trigger the release of chemicals called histamines, which are responsible for the telltale symptoms of allergies.
How are allergies treated and how do I know which treatment is right for me?
- Allergies can be treated with allergen avoidance strategies, medications, and/or allergen immunotherapy. After listening to your specific symptoms and concerns, performing a physical and running the appropriate tests, a board-certified allergist and immunologist can determine the best treatment plan for each patient.
What is allergen immunotherapy?
- Allergen immunotherapy is a disease-modifying treatment that involves gradual increasing doses of allergens at regular intervals to a patient who may be sensitive to those allergens.
- The incremental increasing doses of immunotherapy eventually desensitize the patient to the allergen, which creates immunity or tolerance to the allergen.
What are the advantages of allergen immunotherapy over allergy medications?
- Allergen immunotherapy, as opposed to typical allergy medication, is a disease modifying treatment that changes the abnormal immune response that causes the allergic condition.
- Since immunotherapy involves treating the underlying disease process, it often results in long lasting relief of symptoms, even after the immunotherapy course finishes.
- Allergen immunotherapy can prevent new allergies.
- In children, allergen immunotherapy can prevent the progression of allergic rhinitis to asthma.
Who is a candidate for allergen immunotherapy?
- Allergen immunotherapy is used to treat children above age 5 and adults who suffer from allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and/or allergic asthma
What are the different forms of allergen immunotherapy?
- Allergen immunotherapy can be given as subcutaneous injection, commonly referred to as allergy shots (SCIT). It can also be given as tablets or drops that dissolve under the tongue (SLIT).
- Allergy shots or SCIT are the most common and effective form of allergen immunotherapy. Allergy shots are given in-clinic under doctor supervision. During the build-up phase of allergy shots, patients are given increasing doses of immunotherapy at least once a week. Once the effective dose is reached, doses are often decreased to once every four weeks.
- Allergy SLIT tablets are administered once daily at home but only treat one type of allergen. Allergy SLIT drops are also administered once daily at home and can include multiple allergens but are not FDA approved. Allergy SLIT drops are widely accepted and commonly used in European countries.
What can be done for severe allergic reactions from insect stings?
- People who have had a severe allergic reaction to fire ant, wasp, hornet, be, or yellow jacket insect stings can reduce their sensitivity to these allergens with venom immunotherapy.
- Venom immunotherapy is a potentially life-saving treatment for people with history of anaphylaxis to certain insect stings.
Above Information collected from AAAAI, ACAAI, WAO, and UpToDate
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