Spring is here and with it comes...allergies. It would be a shame to spend these warmer, sunny days with a runny nose and sneezing. Allergy Partners is here to help!
Did you know that Allergy Partners is the nation's largest single-specialty practice in allergy, asthma and immunology? Allergy Partners physicians are trained in the diagnosis, treatment and management of asthma and allergic diseases, and will create a treatment plan specifically for you to help manage your symptoms.
Here are a few questions Allergy Partners answered for us about those pesky seasonal allergies.
Q What is an allergist?
An allergist is a physician with specialized training to diagnose, treat and manage individuals with environmental allergies, food allergies, stinging insect allergy, asthma, chronic or recurrent sinus problems and eczema. Many allergists also take care of patients with primary immunodeficiency which is a category of genetic conditions that puts patients at increased risk for recurrent infection. Allergists are trained to provide specialized care for both pediatric and adult patients.
Q What causes us to react to allergens?
Allergies occur when our immune system makes an abnormal response to an otherwise harmless substance in the environment. The normal function of our immune system is to determine whether or not a substance poses a danger to the individual. Specifically, allergies develop when the immune systems generates an antibody called IgE directed against that substance. Although environmental and food allergies disproportionately affect children and young adults, an individual can develop an allergy at any age. It is not uncommon for a person to have been exposed to a medication or food their entire life without problems and then spontaneously develop an abnormal allergic response.
Q How early can children show symptoms of environmental allergies?
This is a more complicated question than it seems. Many conditions have been linked to environmental allergies such as atopic dermatitis (i.e. allergic eczema), nasal and ocular allergies, and asthma. Infants can begin to suffer from eczema within the first few months of life; if there is an allergic trigger, it is most likely a food, though not all eczema is allergy related. At this young age, environmental allergies can trigger eczema but most of the time this will be due to an indoor allergen such as dust mites or animal dander from the family pet. In infants and toddlers, recurrent wheezing is also a problem and this too can be triggered by indoor allergens, though most of the time it is triggered by viruses. As a child gets above the age of 2, we start to see more seasonal allergy symptoms as they have now experienced at least two pollen seasons.
Q What are some ways parents tell the difference between an allergy and a cold?
Symptoms of viral respiratory infections and allergies can be very similar and difficult to tell apart. Runny nose, nasal congestion and cough are usually common findings with both, but children with allergies will many times have itchy, watery eyes and frequent sneezing as well as the sensation of an itchy nose. Fever is more common with viruses. A crease across the bridge of the nose or dark circles under the eyes can be a clue the child is suffering from allergies but these are not a guarantee of allergic disease. A history of symptoms that occur with a specific exposure, like going to a house with a cat or during the height of spring pollen, are much more indicative of allergies. The average child has four to eight respiratory infections per year and some have even more which may make it seem like the child is always sick or suffering from an indoor allergy. Allergy testing can help determine the cause in these cases. One important point to remember is that children with allergies tend to be more susceptible to respiratory infections, such as sinusitis, ear infections and colds, and that these conditions are not mutually exclusive.
Q Will you give us some tips on what we can do at home to reduce environmental allergies?
Reducing symptoms by reducing exposure to an allergen is called allergen avoidance. The intervention depends on the environmental allergy that the patient is suffering from. For dust mite allergy, covering the bedding with special allergen-proof covers can reduce the amount of dust mite allergen a patient inhales while they sleep, as most of our exposure to mites occurs in our beds. For animal dander allergy, keeping the animal outside or at least out of the bedroom can help, as well as bathing the animal on a regular basis to reduce dander exposure. For pollen allergy, using the air conditioner and changing the air filters in the ventilation system frequently during the high pollen count months can help reduce symptoms.
Q Is it true that we can develop allergies at any time?
This is absolutely true. At one point it was felt by many doctors that allergies could not develop before the age of 2. We know now that this is not the case. Babies can develop an allergy to anything they are exposed to on a consistent basis such as pet dander, molds, dust mite and foods. However, it does take at least one pollen season of exposure to develop an allergy to pollen, so this usually develops after the age of 1. The age period where many allergies develop is up to the age of 5 and throughout childhood, though there is an additional "spike" in adults in their 20s and 30s. However, allergies can develop at any time, even in the elderly.
Q Does Allergy Partners treat all age groups?
Absolutely. We are all board-certified in pediatric and adult allergy and see patients of all ages. It's one of the joys of our job!
Q If my child has springtime allergies are they more susceptible to developing fall allergies?
This is indeed true. Patients with one allergy are more likely to develop other allergies in the future. Interestingly, appropriately dosed immunotherapy (allergy shots) has been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of developing other allergies.
Q If my child is allergic to cats or dogs, will consistent grooming help?
Frequent bathing and grooming of pets helps to reduce shedding, removes allergens such as pollen and saliva from the hair, and is an important component to the environmental control measures when there is a pet in the home. The grooming should be done in conjunction with other measures, such as keeping the pet out of the bedroom and in areas with limited or no carpet, if possible. Air filters can also be helpful.
Q How does Allergy Partners determine a person's allergies?
The physicians of Allergy Partners determine the presence of allergies by performing skin tests to appropriate allergens by both prick and sometimes intradermal methods. The prick testing scratches only the surface of the skin. When appropriate, specific IgE antibody levels are ordered. The choice of allergens for testing is determined by the geographic location, age and the clinical history. These are the methods shown to be reliable by countless clinical studies.
Q How do allergies affect asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airway associated with spasm of bronchial muscles in response to a variety of triggers. Exposure to allergens represents a significant trigger for most children and many adults who have asthma. When an allergic reaction occurs in the airway, there is a release of compounds in the respiratory environment that causes inflammation and constriction of muscles around the airway.
Have questions you want to ask the doctors at Allergy Partners? They will be hosting Ask The Expert, live on our Facebook Page on May 14th at 8:00 p.m. Come join the conversation! You can also make an appointment with Allergy Partners at either their Stafford or Fredericksburg locations.