By: Hao “Mimi” Tran, M.D., F.A.C.S.
When your body reacts to common things that do not cause issues for other people, it means you have an allergy. It becomes a problem when your body has an overreaction to these allergens, or innocent environmental triggers. Symptoms including runny nose, sneezing, watery itchy eyes, hives, scratchy throat and cough may become bothersome and interfere with everyday activities.
What can you do to help control your symptoms if you are having problems with allergies? Relief comes in many forms – from simply changing your environment to taking medication. If those treatments fail, consult your allergy care specialist or otolaryngologist to see what advanced methods may offer help for you.
Evaluation and Treatment
At our Allergy and Sinus Center at The Ear, Nose, Throat and Plastic Surgery Associates, evaluation for allergies is typically performed with a skin test. Even if you think you know what the cause might be, it is not always the case! During an allergy skin test, small amounts of allergens are placed on your skin in order to determine if there is a reaction. The ones you react to are the ones you are allergic to.
Once you have discovered what you are allergic to, you can decide a course of treatment with your physician. An alternative method to determine one’s allergy sensitivities is a through bloodwork called the radioallergosorbent (RAST) test. This test may be used if a person has sensitive skin, is taking a beta blocker medication or has a phobia to needles.
The most common allergens are mold, dust, animal dander and pollen from weeds, grass and trees. In order to decrease exposure to pollen, it is smart to shower before bed so that any pollen that may have gotten on your hair and skin is washed away. In addition, stay away from the outdoors on dry windy days and keep your windows closed. Make sure to clean the shower and moist areas efficiently to reduce the presence of mold. Mold can be killed with a mixture of water and chlorinated bleach and can be prevented by having good air circulation throughout the home.
For pet dander reduction, you should use an air filter and try to keep your pet outside of the bedroom. To reduce the presence of dust in the home, it is recommended to replace carpets with alternate flooring, like hardwood or such. You should also get rid of drapes, feathered pillows, and upholstered furniture. Make sure to mop frequently and vacuum often in order to keep dust away.
But if simply changing the environment is not enough to provide relief for you, or it isn’t feasible, consider one of the many over-the-counter medications available for allergy relief such as:
- If you suffer from mainly nasal symptoms, the most effective treatment is usually a nasal steroid spray, such as Flonase, Rhinocort, etc. Nasal steroid sprays reduce swelling in the nose which can provide relief. There is also an antihistamine nasal spray, such as Azelastine, that can be prescribed for patients who suffer from runny nose and excess allergy mucous.
- If you have more than just nasal symptoms,, an oral antihistamine can be helpful. It is best to take them before you have an encounter with allergens. These over-the-counter medications include Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec and Xyzal.
- If you have a severe stuffy nose, a decongestant is an option. Decongestants come in the form of pills and nose sprays. Be advised, you can form a dependency to nose spray if used more than 3 days. The result of becoming dependent is feeling worse after you discontinue use. Blood pressure can be raised with decongestants so make sure to consult with your physician first.
- Eye drops are used for relief of watery and itchy eyes if other medications are not helping.
- Cromolyn sodium is a type of nasal spray used to prevent a reaction to allergens but it needs be taken before coming into contact with them.
If you have identified which allergens cause a reaction and you are unable to avoid these allergens or would like to decrease medication use, then allergy immunotherapy may be an option. The concept is that your body is exposed to small amounts of what you are allergic to and over the course of months to years, the immune system develops defense against these allergens. This type of treatment prevents the allergy reaction from happening in the first place and is the only form of treatment that targets the issue at the root cause.
Immunotherapy is individualized based upon each patient’s allergy profile and can be given in the form of shots or drops that are placed under the tongue. The treatments can take anywhere from months to years depending on the individual. The success rate is around 80 percent and can be life changing!
To learn more about your allergies and how you may benefit from one particular treatment over another, consult an otolaryngologist familiar with treating various allergies in your area or check out our Allergy Care Center website.