Allergies: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments
Symptoms and causes
There are many types of allergies to which humans are susceptible. Allergic reactions occur when the immune system mistakes a benign substance for an attacking or dangerous one. These reactions are complex and vary by individuals.
At Santa Cruz Ear, Nose and Throat Medical Group, we have a variety of doctors ready to help you find the cause and treatments for your allergies.
Otolaryngologists (ENTs) are generally concerned with seasonal allergic reactions, caused by various types of pollen, and year-round reactions caused by other allergens like mold, pet dander and dust. These allergens cause reactions in the ears, nose and throat that cause swelling and produce histamine, a body substance that increases production of mucus.
In turn, mucus production results in common allergic symptoms like watery eyes and a runny nose. When these reactions are seasonal and due to pollen (most often called hay fever), symptoms can be severe and pose health risks to many people. When pollen enters the nose, throat or eyes, it irritates membranes and begins the process of allergic inflammation. The result is the production of histamine and the itchy, burning sensation so common in allergy sufferers.
ENTs are specifically prepared to help patients fight hay fever symptoms and find the causes in individuals. Patients may have similar symptoms but each patient has a unique body chemistry and should be diagnosed individually. ENTs have the experience and facilities to test for allergies and prescribe the most appropriate pharmaceuticals. For example, histamine is also concentrated in some foods; physicians might recommend avoiding a list of them when possible since this can exacerbate histamine production.
Patients generally have a set of recurring symptoms when they are allergic to something in their environment. Allergy testing can pinpoint the cause of the allergy, allowing the person to avoid the substance when possible. In the case of foods, the recommendations are straightforward: avoid the food and other items that have been prepared with it. Seasonal allergens like pollen are certainly more difficult to avoid entirely, but precautions can help.
The most common test for these allergies involves putting samples of allergens into the surface of the skin, usually by scratching with a small needle. The test for the allergy is positive if the area becomes inflamed, discolored or swollen. No reaction means no allergy to a particular substance. The procedure causes little or no pain and is performed regularly in thousands of patients. The scratch tests are considered very safe for the patient; it is very rare for a scratch test to cause a severe allergic reaction. Tests are supervised by an ENT. They are brief, lasting about ten minutes, and results show within thirty minutes.
Allergies are rated by the severity of a person’s reaction to the substance. So, the larger and redder the “wheal,” as it is known, or sore spot, the more allergic one is to the substance. (1)
Blood samples can also be used to test for allergies. If patients prefer this method, the nurse or physician takes a blood vial and has it tested for a series of allergens. Blood tests detect antibodies associated with specific allergens. Recommendations for treatment are the same with either test.
A wide variety of allergy treatments are available. The ENT will determine the best treatment for an individual by determining the type of allergy and its severity. Many people are allergic to more than one substance. Many factors are considered when offering a treatment, such as the general medical condition of the patient.
Physicians prescribe several kinds of medications designed to relieve symptoms. Oral and nasal medications are the most common treatments and include antihistamines, decongestants and steroidal sprays. (2) However, oral allergy medications are only able to treat symptoms. They do not help immunize patients from the effects of allergens. Always check with your ENT before using allergy medicines purchased without a prescription.
One effective treatment against allergies is an injection. Given periodically during the year, often depending on whether the allergies are seasonal or not, injections usually reduce the need to take oral medications. One important aspect of injections is that they help immunize the patient against severe attacks in the future. An injection of this type is an immunotherapy.
Injection treatments are immunotherapies since they act as immunizations rather than treatments for existing ailments. They are long-term treatments and are used to fight seasonal and perennial allergies.
Another immunotherapy is sublingual. Drops containing a percentage of the allergen are put under the patient’s tongue in order to build tolerance for the allergen. This therapy is designed for each patient and the ENT treats the allergy by increasing the dosage over time. Sublingual immunotherapy has proven safe and effective as a treatment in adults and children. (3)
In any case, patients should always check with their specialists to be tested for the exact severity allergies they might have. The professionals at Santa Cruz Ear, Nose and Throat Medical Group are available and ready to help you tackle your allergies!