Allergy is an exaggerated reaction of the immune system to allergens which it perceives as harmful to the body.
When allergens enter the body and sensitize the immune system, specific Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to the allergens are produced. These IgE antibodies attach to mast cells found in the tissues. When the same allergens enter the body again and attach to IgE antibodies, an allergic reaction is triggered, resulting in the release of histamine and other chemicals which cause the allergy symptoms.
Approximately 50 million Americans have allergies.
- House Dust
- Animal dander
- Stinging insects, honey bee, wasp, yellow jacket and hornets and Imported Fire Ants
Symptoms of allergies can vary depending on the potency of the allergens as well as the individual’s immune system. Some common symptoms are sinus congestion, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, itchy/watery eyes, and in very severe cases, anaphylaxis.
Allergies are diagnosed in children and adults through a variety of tests including skin prick tests and blood tests:
- Skin prick tests involve scratching or pricking the surface of the skin with a small needle that has been exposed to the suspected antigen. If the body reacts to the allergen, then a bump will appear where the skin was scratched, indicating an allergic reaction.
- Blood tests usually test for food, environmental allergens or stinging insect venoms, whereby specific IgE levels to the particular allergens are measured.
Allergies can be treated or controlled through many different strategies.
Treatment of Allergies
- Environmental control: An effective approach is to completely avoid the suspected allergens which may be possible to some extent with indoor but not outdoor allergens.
- Pharmacotherapy would include medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene blockers, nasal sprays and eye drops containing antihistamine and or anti inflammatory agents. This offers essentially day-to-day treatment of symptoms.
- Immunotherapy: Allergen immunotherapy has been used and is widely recognized as an effective intervention for patients with allergic disorders. Allergy injections are administered as a series of injections, over a period of several months or years, to help build up tolerance for specific allergens. Through allergy injections desensitization to multiple allergens is possible. Allergy injections offer “near cure” for allergies.
- In certain patients, Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is an option. SLIT involves once a day, every day, and treatment with a single allergen (grass or ragweed) tablet placed under the tongue. SLIT may also be done "pre-season" (before the season) or "co-seasonal" (during the allergy seasons).