How to Identify and Treat Common Allergies
Anyone who suffers from allergies knows that they are nothing to sneeze at. Allergies are the immune system`s exaggerated responses to normally harmless substances such as perfumes, detergents, smoke, mold, foods and food additives, cosmetics and insect venom. In most cases allergy symptoms are self evident; however, a lot of careful detective work is involved in finding out exactly what triggers them. A routine physical will help to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms. The doctor will also ask questions before making any determinations. Do you own pets? Do other members of the family have the same or similar symptoms? Are your symptoms seasonal?
Your doctor may then order testing to be done in order to pinpoint specific allergens. The most commonly used tests are skin tests, where small pieces of skin are exposed to the suspected allergens and then observed for a reaction.
The best way to treat allergies after they have been identified is to completely avoid the allergens that cause them; however, avoidance is not always an option. Because with hay fever, other pollens and all other allergens that can't be avoided are most often treated with drugs that inhibit or counteract the histamines that cause the reactions. Most over-the-counter allergy medications cause drowsiness, and may worsen symptoms of urinary and prostate disorders and glaucoma. There are many prescription antihistamines and nasal sprays that are non-sedating.
In cases where the patient has severe allergies, steroids may also be prescribed. These steroids are usually applied to the skin or inhaled and work by temporarily blocking the action of white blood cells and chemicals in the body that produce swelling and inflammation.
These allergy medications are made to work for more specific symptoms. For example, topical medications help to alleviate skin reactions like inflammation or itching. Decongestants relieve nasal stuffiness by constricting tiny blood vessels in the nose. Calamine lotion and aloe gels work by soothing the skin; others, like benzocaine, work by numbing the skin.
Allergy shots, also called immunotherapy or desensitization are usually only prescribed when a patient has severe allergies that cannot be controlled adequately with the medications mentioned above. Injections of the allergenic extract are given to the patient in increasing amounts over a long period of time. The objective is to build up a natural tolerance to the allergens, which will reduce the symptoms and the need for medications.
Anaphylaxis or Anaphylactic Shock.
Anaphylaxis is an extremely severe, whole-body allergic reaction. Hives, swelling of the lips, eyelids, throat, or tongue (Angioedema) often occur. Angioedema may be severe enough to block the airway. Prolonged anaphylaxis can cause heart arrhythmia. Anaphylaxis can occur in response to any allergen, but the most common causes include medications, food allergies (peanuts and tree nuts are the most common), bee stings, insect bites and stings. Treatment for these kinds of reactions is generally an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) and careful observation until the person has completely recovered. People who suffer from these kinds of reactions should wear a Medic-Alert bracelet and carry a kit consisting of an EpiPen (epinephrine/adrenaline) and antihistamines. These kits require a doctor`s prescription.
Treatment of more severe allergies should always be overseen by a doctor or allergist. Some alternative therapies can alleviate symptoms, but it is unlikely that they will produce immunity.
Acupuncture. These treatments are used to overcome specific symptoms, such as runny nose or itching. Thin needles are are inserted into the points relating to the affected organs.
Nutrition Therapy. Counseling by a nutritionist can be helpful for those who have many food allergies. Some allergy diets call for the elimination of entire food groups and supplements are prescribed in order to maintain a well balanced diet.
Herbal Medicine. Inhaling steam that contains eucalyptus or cloves will help to ease sinus and nasal congestion, and when applied to the skin chamomile can alleviate skin rash, hives and itching. Herbal remedies should be used with caution, as they are chemically related to certain allergens and can provoke allergic reactions of their own.
As mentioned earlier, the main line of defense with allergies is avoidance, but if this isn`t possible, there are some things that we can do.
- Buy pillows made of synthetic fibers instead of feathers.
- Make sure that furnace and humidifier filters are kept clean.
- Avoid heavy drapes and blinds. Use light washable curtains and launder them frequently.
- Use paint instead of wallpaper, which can promote the growth of mold.
- Don`t hang sheets and pillow cases outside to dry. Molds and pollens can collect on them.
- Vacuum mattresses regularly.
- Consider getting rid of carpeting in your home and installing tile or hardwood.
- Try to keep windows closed and the air conditioning on. Pollens can come in through open windows and air conditioning cools, cleans and dries the air.