All posts by Charleston Allergy and Asthma

When are allergy tests needed?

If you have allergies, you likely know it. Sneezing, sniffling, itchy and watery eyes, the symptoms are sometimes overwhelming. Your immune system controls how your body defends itself and it overreacts to allergens you’ve inhaled, touched or ate. For example, if you’re allergic to dogs, your immune system identifies dog hair or dander as an invader. Your immune system produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (or IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. These reactions can range from annoying sniffles to a life-threatening response called anaphylaxis.  

If you’re experiencing symptoms, but aren’t sure why or what’s causing them, allergy testing may be needed. Symptoms that usually prompt testing include:

  • Respiratory – itchy eyes, nose or throat; nasal congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, chest congestion, cough or wheezing
  • Skin – itchiness or eczema  
  • Abdominal – vomiting or cramping and diarrhea consistently after eating certain foods
  • Severe reactions to stinging insect stings (other than swelling at the site of the sting)
  • Anaphylaxis (pronounced an-a-fi-LAK-sis): a serious allergic reaction that affects many parts of the body at the same time

Allergy tests are the best and safest way to tell exactly what triggers your symptoms. The most common triggers include dust mites, animal dander, mold, pollen, insects, foods, latex and drugs. An allergist/immunologist can perform multiple types of allergy tests.

 

  • Skin tests: This is the most common kind of testing done in the allergist’s office. In this test, a small amount of allergenic liquid is placed on your skin and this area is pricked or scratched. Redness and swelling at a testing site tells us you are allergic to the tested allergen. It is generally not much more bothersome than a bug bite. The results of this test are ready in minutes, so you leave the office knowing what you are allergic to.
  • Intradermal tests: Intradermal tests are more sensitive than prick tests and may be used when prick test results are inconclusive. In this test, a very small amount of the sterile testing liquid will be injected just under the surface of your skin, similar to a TB test. The results are available in minutes.
  • Challenge tests: Challenge tests are sometimes used when a doctor suspects you have a food or drug allergy. In this test, a patient will eat or inhale a very small amount of the possible allergen under the close supervision of a board-certified allergist. The amount is gradually increased over several hours to ensure a full serving or dose can be tolerated. This type of test should only be done by a board-certified allergist with experience treating anaphylaxis. For your safety, do not try this test at home!
  • Blood tests: For this test, blood is drawn and then tested for allergies. This test is more expensive than skin testing and it takes longer to receive your results. Interpretation of this test should be done by a board-certified allergist as a positive result does not necessarily mean the patient is allergic. It is best understood in conjunction with an extensive allergy history and skin test. Unlike skin testing, blood allergy testing can be done when patients are still on oral antihistamines.

 

Many people with untreated symptoms aren’t aware of how much better they will feel once they are properly diagnosed and their symptoms are managed. We are here to help you breathe better, feel better and live better!

Give us a call or request an appointment online to begin your allergy treatment plan with one of our amazing board-certified doctors!

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COVID-19 & Loss of Smell: How Much Do You Know?

The overwhelming majority—approximately 86% of people—who have COVID-19 report either partial or total loss of their ability to smell. Experts aren’t yet entirely sure what causes this and why it differs from the usual causes of reduced ability to smell associated with seasonal upper respiratory infections. However, there are some interesting things we do know about this hallmark symptom of COVID-19.

What We Know About COVID & Loss of Smell

Besides complete loss of smell (anosmia), COVID can also cause the qualitative disturbance of smell and distortion of the perception of a smell. These are called dysosmia and parosmia respectively. Out of the 86% of people who experienced any of the three, nearly 55% had only mild cases of COVID-19. Why? It’s suspected that they have higher levels of antibodies that prevent the spread of COVID to the nose. 

In any case, loss of smell has become an early indicator of the likelihood of a severe case of COVID. And although it mainly seems to affect individuals with mild COVID cases, the impact can still be far-reaching. Dr. Carolyn Word of the Charleston Allergy & Asthma team is one example of this. 

More than 60 days after her bout with the virus, she still had not fully recovered her sense of smell. She said, “For example, if I’m standing right over the stove, I can smell bacon but not the smell wafting through the house. I can’t detect smells in the ambient air; they have to be physically under my nose. But a month ago, I couldn’t smell anything right under my nose so I’m hopeful that this is a sign that I’ll continue to improve.”

Thousands of people have had similar experiences. While most recover their sense of smell within 3 weeks and certainly before the 60-day mark, not all are so fortunate. In one study, close to 25% of affected people suffered from loss of smell for more than 60 days and 5% for 6 months. And only time will tell if this could be a permanent issue for some. 

Loss of Smell: Why So Worrisome?

At first, loss of smell may not seem as serious as loss of sight or other senses. Yet, in reality, our sense of smell plays a huge role in daily living. For example, it can help us protect ourselves, alerting us to dangers such as fires and fumes. And besides emergencies, it’s also critical to maintaining a positive mental state. 

Especially for those with pre-existing mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, it can be devastating not to be able to enjoy simple pleasures such as the smell of a favorite meal or other enjoyable, comforting fragrances. 

“One of the most difficult parts of losing my smell was missing out on the many things I find comforting,” said Dr. Word. “Any mom can likely relate, but not being able to pull my kids into a hug and smell them was heartbreaking. It was very eye-opening to sense how often a I rely on smell in my day-to-day, not just for going about everyday chores or tasks, but the joy and comfort that it can bring.”

Given these serious implications, you may wonder what can help those suffering from partial or total loss of smell due to COVID-19?

Treatment Options For Loss of Smell

Outside of waiting for your sense of smell to return on its own, there are a few things that can help it along. Some research suggests that topical steroids and certain supplements may help; these are options you may wish to discuss with your healthcare provider. 

Additionally, olfactory training (also known as smell therapy) is also an option. It involves a routine of smelling various scents and then reflecting on and visualizing what each one actually smells like. It’s thought that this combination of recognizable smells and visualization helps retrain the pathways to the brain and can speed up recovery from loss of smell. 

We are hopeful that as researchers and doctors continue to learn more about COVID-19, new forms of treatment and advancements in medicine will follow to provide more answers for the virus’ symptoms.

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Allergy Shots vs. Over-the-Counter Meds: Which Do You Need?

Finding relief from persistent symptoms is a top priority for many allergy sufferers. If this is true for you, you may wonder whether over-the-counter (OTC) medications could do the trick or if you need a more heavy-duty treatment such as allergy shots. 

 

Advantages of Allergy Shots Over OTC Meds

Over-the-counter medications can be effective in reducing allergy symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes and congestion. However, the relief they offer is generally short-lived with many medications lasting just 24 hours, meaning that you have to take them daily. How do allergy shots differ?

They can provide long-term relief from symptoms triggered by seasonal allergies, indoor allergens and even insect bites. Therefore, allergy shots can be a good option if you’d like to cut down on your long-term use of allergy meds. 

They may also be necessary if you’ve been unable to find OTC medicines that successfully keep your symptoms under wraps or you can’t avoid the allergens that trigger your symptoms.

In fact, allergy shots are the closest thing we have to a cure for allergies. They are also more cost effective than a lifetime of OTC medication. To put it plainly, medicines are simply a band-aid for your symptoms, while allergy shots can make a positive impact on your immune system for the long haul.

 

How Do Allergy Shots Work? 

Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy. Within each allergy shot is a small amount of the allergen that triggers your symptoms. While not enough to lead to a full-blown allergic reaction, it is enough to stimulate your immune system and is tailored specifically for you. 

Over time, as your board-certified allergist increases the dose of allergens in each shot, your body builds up a tolerance for them, which results in a reduction of symptoms or even complete desensitization. 

 

Allergy Shots: What to Expect

Generally, allergy shots are injected into the upper arm and are administered in two phases. The first usually takes three to six months. During this period, shots with higher allergen doses each time are administered one to three times a week. Then, during the maintenance phase, which lasts three to five years, you’ll receive a shot monthly. 

What results can you expect from this form of treatment? While your symptoms will not go away overnight, most patients see significant improvement within the first year of treatment and even more progress thereafter. By year three, most people are desensitized to the allergens contained in the shots and no longer have significant allergic reactions to those substances. 

While some need ongoing immunotherapy treatment to keep allergy issues under control, some can discontinue treatment after the three to five-year period without the return of allergy attacks. In either case, it’s always a welcome relief for our patients not to have their lives constantly interrupted by runny nose, sneezing, skin rashes, congestion and the laundry list of other unpleasant symptoms caused by allergens. 

Would you like to discuss whether allergy shots would be an appropriate treatment for you? Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified allergists. 

Sources: 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/allergy-shots/about/pac-20392876

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Coping With COVID-19: A Mom’s Perspective | Charleston Allergy & Asthma

If you’ve managed to escape the grips of COVID-19 so far or don’t personally know anyone who’s tested positive for it, it can be hard to imagine the challenges of coping with it day-to-day. Yet, in light of the seriousness of the pandemic, we’re sharing the story of a mom whose life and family were impacted by the virus. It’s the story of our very own Dr. Carolyn Word.

Dr. Word’s COVID-19 Experience 

Despite being cautious, the majority of her immediate family came down with COVID-19, leading them to spend a total of 26 days in quarantine. 

It all started when her three-year-old daughter, although masked all day at preschool, was exposed. Dr. Word said, “We put her in quarantine and decided to test the whole family in an abundance of caution.” She, her husband and her other two children initially tested negative. 

Even still, everyone except her husband Robert got sick. He was spared because the decision was made for him to live apart from the family so he could return to work sooner. The rest of the family progressively fell ill. Symptoms ranged from cough, dry throat, and nasal congestion to fever, fatigue and headache. Dr. Word also experienced loss of smell and taste.

Beyond the physical symptoms, other challenges came with the situation as well. The family was separated due to quarantine, which was especially difficult around Thanksgiving and Christmastime. For Dr. Word, there was also the anxiety of trying to balance caring for her first priority—her children—while still trying to work via telehealth. And, that’s not to mention an often-overlooked effect of isolation. Dr. Word said, “The moment I knew we had a positive COVID test, there was a shame that came with it, as if we’d done something wrong. And I’m a rule follower.” 

Despite the challenges, though, the family tried to stay positive, eat healthy, play card games, enjoy crafts and do their best to take care of one another. Now that her family has recovered from COVID-19, Dr. Word has some words of wisdom to share.

 

Dealing With COVID-19: What You Can Do

If you come down with COVID-19, keep these three things in mind. 

  1. Make Healthy Choices: Be as active as possible, do deep breathing exercises for good lung expansion, drink lots of water, make healthy food choices and take vitamins. Besides that, do your best to keep your mind sharp with reading and other activities and keep your spirits up by video chatting with family and friends. 
  2. Be Prepared: While you don’t need to hoard supplies, you should be sure that you have the vitamins and medications you need on hand, especially if you have a condition such as asthma. It’s also wise to have a pulse oximeter, which measures your oxygen levels and can help you monitor the status of your health. 
  3. After COVID, Consider Plasma Donation: Some who recover from COVID-19 have antibodies in their blood, which can help people currently fighting the illness to fight off infection more efficiently. Once you have fully recovered from COVID-19, consider donating convalescent plasma as Dr. Word did. 

While there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding COVID-19, we do know that everything from its severity to the recovery process varies from person to person. Therefore, it’s important to continue to be extra cautious (for ourselves and others), and to know how best to handle it if impacted by the virus. From everyone here at Charleston Allergy & Asthma, stay safe and, if you have concerns or need information about coping with asthma and COVID-19, don’t hesitate to reach out

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What You Should Know About COVID-19 & Other Vaccines

While always a topic of interest, the COVID-19 pandemic has created more conversations than ever before surrounding vaccination. Specifically, many people are curious about the history of vaccines, how the coronavirus vaccine works, and how it compares to others. Dr. Meredith Moore, a board-certified allergist/immunologist on our Charleston Allergy & Asthma team offered some insight into these important topics. 

A Brief History of Vaccines

In 1796, Edward Jenner created the first successful vaccine using material from cowpox to ward off smallpox. 1885 saw the creation of the rabies vaccine and, thereafter, as a result of the dawn of bacteriology (the study of bacteria), many advancements were made through the 1930s. These included the development of tetanus, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis vaccines. Then, in the ‘40s, the flu vaccine became available. Currently, it’s one of more than 20 vaccines that are in routine clinical use in the U.S. today. 

How were these and other vaccines made and how do they work? Many were created using a difficult, time-consuming process that involved:

  1. Growing enough of a dangerous virus or bacteria to mass-produce a vaccine
  2. Either inactivating it so that it can’t cause illness or purifying and stabilizing a portion of it so that it can be administered to patients

By safely introducing the immune system to the virus or bacteria, if and when real exposure happens, the immune system recognizes it as foreign material and aggressively launches an attack, producing antibodies to fight off infection. Is the same true of the COVID-19 vaccine?

What Makes the COVID-19 Vaccine Different

There are at least three things that set the COVID-19 vaccine apart. 

  1. Although having been researched for decades, the coronavirus vaccine uses a new technology with mRNA, which is a code that helps the body to produce proteins capable of fighting the virus. The use of this technology eliminated the need to grow the SARS-CoV2-2 virus to produce the vaccine, which allowed for rapid and relatively inexpensive production.
  2. mRNA is nothing more than a code, similar to a recipe card with instructions for generating the proteins needed to combat the SARS-CoV2-2 virus. Since it doesn’t contain a live virus, it’s safer than its counterparts because it can’t cause mutations. 
  3. The proteins in the coronavirus vaccine remain stable and potent in the vials without the help of the preservatives, adjuvants or antibiotics needed for other vaccines.

These positive advancements can give you peace of mind if you choose to be vaccinated. But you may still have questions. 

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

You’re not alone if you’ve wondered about any of the following. Here are answers to some common questions about the COVID vaccine. 

  1. How effective is it and how long does it last? The vaccine can provide up to 95% protection against COVID-19 and can reduce the severity of illness in those who still get infected. However, right now, it’s not certain how long this protection lasts.
  2. Why are some COVID-19 vaccines administered in two doses? The first dose exposes the immune system and the second boosts your antibody levels and immune response. The vaccine is only partially effective within two weeks of the first dose of the mRNA vaccines. Full effectiveness is reached seven days after receiving the second vaccine for most people, which highlights the importance of receiving both doses.
  3. Is vaccination necessary if I’ve already had COVID? Because we don’t know how long immunity lasts it is recommended that you still receive the vaccine. Plus, if you were to become infected again, even asymptomatically, you could pass the infection to others. The vaccine would reduce that risk. 
  4. Are masks, social distancing and other precautions necessary after vaccination? Besides the uncertainty surrounding how long immunity lasts, it’s good practice to keep taking precautions. If a significant portion of the population were to publicly abandon the recommended safety measures before widespread vaccination, this could perpetuate the spread of the disease.

To stay informed as more information becomes available, visit the CDC’s vaccine FAQs. It’s also recommended that you regularly check for updates on South Carolina’s vaccination plan so that you can make arrangements to get your vaccine as soon as you’re eligible.

 

Sources: 

https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/all
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/vaccine-benefits.html
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html
https://scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccine

 

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