In The News: Winter Allergies

Allergy and Immunology: A Misunderstood Medical Field

Ever wonder why there is a specialized medical field just for allergy? How about those old tales you’ve heard of classic allergy symptoms only to realize they were caused by something else? Believe it or not, there are plenty of misconceptions about allergy and asthma, which is why our team is dedicated to educating our patients on their condition and treatment every step of the way. Dr. Lindsey S. Steadman took the time to share about her experience becoming a board-certified allergist and how our team’s training equips us to give our clients the very best allergy and asthma care.

 

How does an allergist become an allergist?

In order to become an allergist, we go through many years of medical school and clinical training:

  • 4-year undergraduate degree – Most healthcare providers choose a major that they feel best prepares them for medical school, such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, etc.
  • 4-year medical school degree – Medical school provides the basis of education in becoming a doctor, covering a wide variety of medical care and topics to ensure a well-rounded education.
  • 3-year residency program – All physicians must enter a residency program of some kind to complete their specialty training. As allergists and immunologists, we all have to receive training in either pediatrics or internal medicine. These are both 3-year residency programs, and they are each followed by a board exam that must be passed in order to become a certified pediatrician or internist.
  • 2 to 3-year fellowship – Residents interested in specializing further can then apply to various fellowship programs. The majority of allergy and immunology fellowship programs are two years long (occasionally three years long). Once we graduate from fellowship, we must pass a board exam in order to be certified in allergy and immunology.

After passing our boards, we are able to treat patients of all ages with any sort of allergic or immunologic disease. This includes, but is not limited to, environmental/seasonal allergies, food allergies, stinging insect allergies, anaphylaxis, hives and swelling, eczema, asthma, chronic/recurrent infections and immunodeficiencies.

 

Why is allergy and immunology such a misunderstood field?

Allergy and immunology is a poorly understood field not only in the general population, but also within the medical community. There are many different myths and “old wives’ tales” out there about allergy signs, symptoms and treatments amongst the general population. When patients are not properly educated by allergy experts, these myths and misinformation continue to circulate and become accepted as fact. Even in the medical field, allergy is a misunderstood because there is very little, if any, dedicated teaching or training on allergy and immunology in medical school or residency programs. Fellowship is where the true allergy and immunology training occurs, so a board-certified allergist is always recommended for patients suffering from any sort of allergic disease or immune deficiency.

We are trained on how to obtain a detailed history to determine whether or not testing and further work-up is needed. We are taught how to interpret the results of both skin and blood tests for various types of allergies, lung function testing for asthma, and blood work for immune disorders, all of which are oftentimes not very straightforward. We are also taught how to appropriately manage these issues with medications, allergy shots, biologics, immunoglobulin replacement, oral food/drug challenges and oral immunotherapy for select food allergies. Therefore, it is always recommended to seek the help of a board-certified allergist because we are the experts in the disease process, pathophysiology, diagnosis, management and treatment of all allergic and immunologic diseases.

 

What are some common myths about allergy and immunology?

  • Every sniffle or sneeze is an allergy and every cough or episode of shortness of breath is asthma… FALSE. Fortunately, we are trained to determine whether or not patients have allergies and/or asthma. Not only can we diagnose and treat these issues, but if patients’ allergy- or asthma-like symptoms are caused by something else, we can often help with those problems as well.
  • Every hive or episode of swelling is due to an allergic reaction… FALSE. This can be true at times, but there are also instances when hives are caused by other things as well. We are trained on how to determine whether or not there is an allergy-causing patients’ hives and swelling and how to treat them no matter the cause.
  • All allergic reactions get worse with subsequent exposures… FALSE. There is no way to predict the severity of an allergic reaction based on previous reactions or testing methods. However, we can help diagnose the cause of the allergic reaction (foods, insect stings, medications, etc.) and educate patients on what exposures would be unsafe and how to handle reactions in the future.

 

If you believe you’ve been experiencing allergy or asthma symptoms but you’re unsure of what to do next, leave it to the experts! All of our allergists are board-certified and our team is dedicated to helping you breathe better, feel better and live better. Schedule your appointment with the experts today.

 

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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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Is it allergies or a cold?

Are you sniffling, sneezing, wheezing and coughing? You may be wondering if you have a common cold or suffering from allergies. The problem is, it’s not always easy to tell the two apart. The symptoms can be the same, but the treatments, not so much. So let’s take a look at each, see how they differ, and how to treat them.

The Common Cold

A cold is an infection caused by a virus, usually in the upper respiratory tract affecting the nose, throat and/or sinuses. Symptoms may appear less than two days after exposure and include coughing, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, headache, and possible fever. A cold will usually develop over several days and takes a couple days to clear up.

While there is no vaccine or cure for the cold, there are ways to help prevent it, the most common being hand washing. While antibiotics will not help with a cold, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can help with discomfort. You also need to stay hydrated and rested. 

Allergies

Allergies are your immune system’s reaction to things like pollen, grass, pet dander and foods like peanuts. An allergic reaction usually triggers symptoms in the nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, and on the skin. In the most serious cases, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can occur.

Because allergies and colds have similar symptoms, like sniffles and stuffiness, many people get them confused. But, there are additional symptoms with allergies like red eyes, an itchy rash, shortness of breath, or swelling. But unlike a cold, which develops over time, allergies begin shortly after you’re exposed to what you’re allergic to. When it comes to the duration, allergies will last as long as you’re exposed. More than likely, if you’ve been experiencing symptoms for more than two weeks, it’s allergies.

So, what if you don’t know what you’re allergic to, but you have symptoms? How can you tell a common cold from allergies? Take a look at the list below and decide how many of the symptoms you have. 

    • Clear or watery mucus
    • Itchy skin or watery eyes
    • Unchanging symptoms 
    • Sniffles for more than a week
    • Symptoms only during certain situations

If you’ve been experiencing symptoms like these, all hope is not lost. There are multiple kinds of allergies, and treatments vary for each. Treatments include avoidance, medications and allergy injections. 

If you want relief from your allergies, or to find out what you’re allergic to, schedule an appointment with a board-certified allergist.

Sources:

https://www.aaaai.org/Aaaai/media/MediaLibrary/PDF%20Documents/Libraries/EL-allergies-colds-allergies-sinusitis-patient.pdf

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies

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What are inhalers & how do they work?

Bronchodilators, or most commonly called inhalers, are medications that are breathed through the mouth and into the lungs to help relax muscles that tighten around your airways. The medicine helps open the airway and lets more air move in and out of your lungs and helps you breathe more easily. 

People with asthma use inhalers during an attack when their airways swell and become narrower. These attacks cause the person to cough, wheeze and have trouble breathing. Almost everyone with asthma will use a bronchodilator to help open their airways. Others may use one at some point in their life if diagnosed with a persistent cough, COPD, bronchitis, etc. Different inhalers have different medications, or a combination of drugs, to address different illnesses. 

Different Kinds of Inhalers

There are three basic types of inhalers that deliver medications. The most common is the metered-dose inhaler (or MDI) which uses pressure to push the medication out of the inhaler. Nebulizers use air or oxygen and deliver a mist of the medication through a tube or mask that fits over your nose and mouth. Dry powder inhalers (or DPIs) deliver medication, but they require a strong and fast inhalation.

Short-acting bronchodilators are used as “quick-relief”, “reliever”, or “rescue” inhalers. These bronchodilators open the airways and help stop or relieve acute asthma attacks very quickly. While they’re best known for working on sudden attacks, they’re also great to use before exercise to help stop asthma during your workout. 

While many people use short-acting bronchodilators, the overuse of an inhaler, tablet, or liquid/nebulizer, is a sign of uncontrolled asthma that needs better treatment. If you are using short-acting bronchodilators more than twice a week, call Charleston Allergy & Asthma about improving your asthma control therapy.

Long-acting bronchodilators provide control, not quick relief, of asthma. Your board-certified allergist will prescribe the medication, which is usually taken twice a day along with inhaled steroids for long-term monitoring of symptoms. 

Unlike short-acting inhalers, long-acting inhalers do not work on muscle inflammation directly. Instead, they help the airways relax, allowing more air to pass through.

If you’re struggling with your asthma or think you may be in need of a prescribed inhaler, request an appointment online today.

 

Sources:

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-dictionary/asthma-inhalers

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-dictionary/bronchodialator

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The Flu Vaccine: More Important Than Ever

Like clockwork, we hear the warnings every year. When flu season rolls around, everyone is encouraged to get the vaccine to prevent the spread of influenza. There are many reasons why getting the flu vaccine is beneficial and highly recommended. What are some of those reasons and, more importantly, why is it more vital than ever that you get your flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Usual Benefits of the Flu Vaccine  

The most obvious benefit of flu vaccination is that it can keep you from coming down with the flu. While 100% protection is not guaranteed, getting vaccinated does make a difference

In fact, during 2018-2019, it was estimated to have prevented more than 4 million flu illnesses, more than 2 million flu-related medical visits, tens of thousands of hospital visits and 40,000-60,000 deaths. It may have even been you who was spared from the flu and its potential complications as a result of vaccination (on your part or that of others)! 

What other compelling reasons are there to get your flu shot yearly? Besides reducing your risk of getting sick and reducing hospitalizations, the vaccine has been shown to:

  • Prevent and limit the severity of influenza illnesses in people with chronic health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications
  • Protect women during and after pregnancy, as well as protecting their newborn child(ren)
  • Reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get the flu anyway. Since every flu season and every individual’s response to influenza are different, you’ll want to have the most protection possible against things going south

Don’t forget that, even if you’re not pregnant or dealing with chronic illness, your flu shot can protect others around you who are. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Flu Shots Can Save Lives During COVID-19 

Experts have predicted that the viruses responsible for the flu and COVID-19 will be co-circulating this fall and winter. This has the potential to cause several problems. 

  1. It could perpetuate the spread of COVID through individuals who mistake symptoms as mild flu and do not adhere to the recommended guidelines for the sick
  2. Contracting the flu and coronavirus at the same time comes with an increased risk of serious and even life-threatening illness
  3. Severe but preventable cases of the flu requiring hospitalization take away the staff and resources needed to treat COVID-19 patients

Protect Yourself, Protect Others 

As you can see, the flu vaccination is more important than ever before. While in 2018-2019, less than half of all Americans got the flu shot, we hope that many more will do their part to protect themselves and others this year, especially since the stakes have been raised by the pandemic. 

With fall already upon us and flu season looming, now is the time to get your flu shot. Since the vaccine takes about two weeks to trigger the creation of antibodies, the sooner, the better! 

 

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