In The News: Spring Allergies

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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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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Lady cleaning counters with facemask and gloves on.

Safe Spring Cleaning

Recently, we have all become part of a whole new world brought on by the COVID-19 virus. As we are isolated and quarantined to our homes to reduce exposure, we are finding ourselves cleaning…and cleaning out…and cleaning some more! A spring cleaning would seem like a great way to occupy our time and help our family’s underlying allergies and asthma; however, many of us have allergies and asthma, which can frequently be triggered by indoor household exposure. Not to worry, you can still give your space a good cleaning, just be careful with your choice of cleaning products. Our goal is to keep you safe and healthy!

Dr. Harper once had a patient who was hospitalized because they were cleaning floor tiles with diluted bleach. Unbeknownst to the patient, her supervisor had sprayed ammonia ahead of her cleaning efforts. The mixture of diluted bleach and ammonia produced chlorine gas, which was used as chemical warfare in WWI.

Certain household cleaning products that are readily available can trigger significant respiratory problems, even in individuals without prior lung disease. A recent study in the American Review of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine indicates that women who are employed as household cleaners have an accelerated loss of lung function, particularly if they are using spray cleaners.

Allergy sufferers should make household chores part of their allergy management plan. Cleaning reduces the number of allergens in homes which can ultimately help alleviate your allergy and asthma symptoms. Indoor allergen avoidance would include reducing dust-collecting clutter, regularly vacuuming with a HEPA filter vacuum, regularly washing blankets and throw rugs, washing all bed linens in hot water once a week, keeping counter surfaces clean and dry, and not leaving food out. 

Individuals who have asthma have increased airway twitchiness which can be triggered by irritant and noxious odors including cigarette smoke, chlorine, fragrances and ammonia. If one has asthma or allergies, care should be taken to choose cleaning products which are milder and do not trigger worsening of your symptoms. 

 Certain potent cleaning products can be mucosal irritants and can cause a worsening of respiratory symptoms in patients with allergies and asthma. The best way to avoid irritation from cleaning products is to have someone else in the household do the cleaning when the allergy sufferer is away from home. This could be a perfect time for your spouse to clean while you enjoy a walk!

There are particular home cleaning products which should be avoided by individuals with allergies and asthma. These products include formaldehyde, ammonia, sodium lauryl sulfate, D-limonene and sodium hypochlorite (bleach). Unfortunately, these chemicals can be found in a wide variety of available cleaning products including furniture polish, disinfectants, mold removers, dish detergents, hand soaps, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, all-purpose cleaners and drain/oven/grill cleaners. “Green” cleaning products can be milder and better for those with allergies, but labels should be read carefully. Interestingly, simple baking soda and vinegar in varying concentrations can clean just about anything in your home!

The best cleaning tools for allergen reduction include a vacuum cleaner, particularly with a double bag system or HEPA filter system. Additionally, a fabric allergen sanitizer vacuum can eliminate 99.9% of dust mites and bacteria from fabric surfaces. Washable microfiber cleaning cloths are safe and effective. Likewise, disposable dust wipes, protective mask and gloves and unscented and dye-free laundry products are safe and work well.

There are many, many cleaning products advertised on the internet, although the safety and effectiveness of these products can be questionable. How do you choose a safe cleaning product? The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA) has developed a certification program to document specific advertised products as being safe from false, exaggerated, or misleading claims. These products can be found on the AAFA website.    

If one is inclined to be a “do-it-yourselfer,” safe gentle homemade cleaners can be prepared without an advance chemical degree or access to industrial-strength petrochemicals. The following is a list of a safe products which can be easily prepared.

  1. All-purpose cleaner: Mix 2 cups of vinegar and 2 cups of water to create an all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant. Do not use this cleaner on marble. It can be used on both kitchen and bathroom surfaces.
  2. Scouring cleaner: Mix ¾ cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of water to create a paste for cleaning sinks, tubs, toilet, ceramic, aluminum, chrome, and stainless steel. This same paste can be used to polish silverware. Alternatively, mix ¼ cup of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of liquid detergent and enough white vinegar to make a creamy texture. You can also add a squeeze of lemon into the paste for a fresh and clean smell.
  3. Drain cleaner: Pour ¼ cup of baking soda in one cup of vinegar down drains.      The combination of the two will create a fizzy cleaner that will scour inside of your drain pipes. Rinse with hot water.
  4. Dishwasher cleaner: Pour ½ cup of vinegar into the reservoir of your dishwasher and run an empty cycle to disinfect and cleaning the interior of your dishwasher.
  5. Mold and mildew cleaner: Spray vinegar on shower walls and curtains to clean and prevent mold and mildew. Wait 15 minutes, rinse and let dry thoroughly.
  6. Window cleaner: Mix together one cup of water, one cup of rubbing alcohol and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. This cleanser works great at cleaning glass without leaving streaks or residue.
  7. Garbage disposal cleaner: Grind peels from oranges, lemons and limes in the garbage disposal with a handful of ice. The ice will sharpen the disposal blades while the citrus peels cleans and freshen the air.

So, while we’re all at home right now twiddling our thumbs for the next clean out project, make sure you are using the best cleaning product for your allergy and asthma needs. If you can’t find what you need, hopefully this list of DIY cleaners is helpful. But if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19, please see the CDC’s cleaning instructions.

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Charleston Allergy global warming

Climate Change: Making Allergy Seasons Worse?

Currently, the vast majority of climate scientists feel that climate change is occurring and that our planet is warming. Global warming is an increase in average global temperature that is mainly attributed – directly or indirectly – to human activities resulting in an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases including water vapor, ozone, carbon dioxide, and methane.  Unfortunately, belief in, or rejection of, climate change and global warming have recently become a “political football” and now seems to define specific political parties.

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