Relief options for allergy sufferers
Allergies affect 50 million Americans, and many times allergies begin during childhood. Dr. Minh-Thu Le, a physician specializing in allergies at CoxHealth, is here to tell us more.
Yvette Williams: What are allergies?
Dr. Minh-Thu Le: That’s a really broad question. But something that we think allergies are, are things in the environment that trigger cells in our immune system to react against them. And, normally these allergens or antigens in the environment that are normally found there wouldn’t react in our own bodies. But, in some people’s bodies they do react.
YW: So we’re more sensitive to an allergen then?
ML: That’s correct. And we don’t know exactly why. But some kids will react to foods, they will react to pollens. Adults can grow into allergies as well.
YW: And then there are seasonal allergies.
ML: That is correct. Seasonal allergies occur when you react to pollens in the air, especially when trees pollinate, when grass pollinates and when weeds pollinate. Trees pollinate in the spring, grass in the summer and weeds in the fall. Also, people can be allergic to molds. They can be allergic to cats, dogs, indoor environment, dust mites, cockroaches – anything that has a particle small enough, you could probably be allergic to it.
YW: So when people have that reaction, what are the symptoms?
ML: The symptoms can vary, but when you talk about seasonal allergies most of the symptoms that many listeners will be very familiar with are sneezing, congestion, post nasal drip and coughing. Their ears may pop, their eyes may itch or have itching of the skin, eyes, nose, ears or throat. So, itching and sometimes rash can accompany allergy symptoms, as well. So, of course swelling, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath will accompany some people who have severe allergies.
YW: Do allergies affect kids and adults differently?
ML: They can, although the sneezing and kind of the common symptoms are the same. Some children can’t tell the adult really what’s going on or not even know the reason they feel the way they do, and can act out. They can be very listless or tired during the day, because they don’t get a good night’s sleep at night and they aren’t really sure why. And, it could be because of allergies. Fatigue is a big issue especially in school-age children. If your child isn’t doing well in school, is not listening or looks like they might be hyperactive at school, it may because they have allergies.
YW: When does someone know when they should consult an allergist?
ML: There are many over-the-counter antihistamines where you don’t necessarily have to go to the doctor to get medication. And long-acting antihistamines don’t have very many side effects, such as drowsiness. So people usually try those first. Usually a good trial would be taking the medication daily through the season they think they are having problems in. So if it is spring, taking it for two to three months in the spring and seeing how they do. Then family practitioners, pediatricians or internal medicine doctors can take it from there and they might add a nasal steroid or a prescription. Now if they’ve tried that, you’ve tried over-the-counter medications and you are still miserable, that would be the time to see an allergist.
YW: What’s the testing like?
ML: The testing that we do for allergies, we can either do percutaneous skin testing, which is skin testing on your back. It involves very small plastic prongs that we put the antigen on and we stick it on your back. Your skin takes up the antigen and then reacts if you are allergic. Some people who have severe allergies or skin conditions aren’t able to do these tests, so we’ll sometimes resort to blood tests, which we can’t do as many at a time.
YW: So how do you treat and manage most allergies?
ML: There’s several different types of treatment and the art of medicine is nice in that you can try to tailor to each individual. I like to use a combination of non-medical interventions – things like saline rinses or the ocean sprays, saline sprays, just to kind of wash things out of your nose, wash pollens out of your nose. People who are allergic to cats and dogs and if they have a dog or cat, we talk about environmental controls to try to limit that exposure. Same thing with dust mites and that exposure. So we have non-medicine type interventions and then combinations of medications. So the antihistamine that you maybe took for two months that didn’t work we might combine that with other medications to try to make it more effective for you.
Then, allergy shots are the other thing. Allergy shots are the only treatment that we have right now that the purpose is to cure people’s allergies. So, we do that by giving patients what they are allergic to. The way we do it at our clinic is we specially mix all the allergens that maybe you might be allergic to, which would be different than another person who would come to our clinic. And then, what we do is we give you either allergy shots or allergy drops. The shots are given usually in the arm, on a weekly basis. And then the drops are usually given underneath the tongue that the patient can take at home daily. We try to put each patient on a regimen that we think is going to be the most beneficial for them.
YW: So good news. There are several options for people suffering from allergies.
ML: Right, and, people who have had allergies all their life and some people who I see are very distraught. They don’t think anyone can help them. Usually we can and so, it’s very rare that I have a patient that I can’t help at all. I do encourage people to see their doctor. If that doesn’t work there is always myself and Dr. William Micka, who specialize in allergies.