What are Allergies?Allergies are an often-inherited condition affecting the immune system that cause an atypical reaction to something eaten, touched, or inhaled. When someone is allergic to something in the environment the immune system treats allergens (for example, pollen, dust, and mold) like an “enemy invader.” The reaction leads to symptoms that can adversely affect the patient’s work, play, enjoyment of nature, and overall quality of life.
How Common are Allergies?Allergies are among the most common and costly chronic illnesses in the nation and affect approximately one in three adults and one in four children. In fact, Memphis is ranked among the top 20 “Allergy Capitals” by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Symptoms of Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) AllergiesMost people are familiar with common seasonal symptoms including sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchy, watery eyes. However, allergy sufferers may also experience chronic sinus problems, post-nasal drip, head congestion, vocal hoarseness, eczema (skin allergies), recurring ear infections, hearing loss, dizziness, chronic cough, and asthma. Even stomach and intestinal problems, as well as excessive fatigue, can point to allergies.
Symptoms of ENT allergies may range from minor to severe and often occur at the same time each year. These responses may include:
- Repeated sneezing
- Nasal itching and rubbing
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Crease across the bridge of nose
- Frequent throat clearing
- Mouth breathing
- Diminished or loss sense of smell or taste
- Recurrent/unexplained nosebleeds
- Recurrent ear infections
- Fluctuating hearing loss
- Cold-like symptoms lasting more than 10 days
- Chronic fatigue
When to See a SpecialistIf your allergy symptoms are disrupting your life and you’re not able to find relief, it may be time to see a specialist. If you haven’t identified the cause of your allergies, a physician will be able to do testing to find the trigger.
Diagnosing AllergiesA patient’s history and a physical examination can make an initial diagnosis of allergies. However, a skin or blood test can identify the specific allergens that are triggering a response.
Treatment for Allergy SufferersThere are three primary ways to reduce the symptoms of allergies:
Limiting contact with an allergen is the simplest, and possibly most important, means of getting relief from allergies. However, it’s not always possible. Usually, other remedies are needed even if you try to limit your exposure.
Both over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, and leukotriene inhibitors (which block the reaction of inflammatory chemicals in the body) can prevent the onset of allergy symptoms and control them after an exposure.
In cases where avoidance and medications do not help in managing reactions to allergens, immunotherapy may be the best treatment. Once testing has revealed the specific allergen, an otolaryngic allergist can alter the body’s overactive response to it by carefully challenging the patient’s immune system through regular injections of the problem allergen.
This method is similar to how vaccines are used to prevent infectious diseases. Over time, immunotherapy may be effective in reducing the excessive response altogether.