Approximately 50 million individuals in the United States suffer from some form of allergies, and that number is growing. The cause of an allergy is not always known, but a family history of allergies is thought to be a primary risk factor.
An allergy is a reaction by your body’s immune system to something that does not typically bother other people, according to the National Institutes of Health. In other words, your body’s defense system sees a certain substance — called an allergen — as a threat and releases antibodies to fight it. Usually, people who have allergies have increased sensitivity to more than one allergen or group of allergens, such as certain types of grass and trees, weeds, dust and mold, and animal fur. The most common food allergies are the proteins in cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts.
Allergic symptoms vary from person to person, can be seasonal or year-round, and reactions can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening (particularly in the case of severe food allergies). Some people show symptoms of allergies at an early age, while others develop them later in life.
Specific types of allergic diseases include allergic rhinitis (hay fever), sinusitis (swelling of the sinuses), serous otitis media (an allergic ear problem), conjunctivitis (red, itchy eyes), hives (itchy, red bumps), asthma (coughing or difficulty breathing) or anaphylaxis — a serious allergic reaction usually caused by a food, insect sting or exposure to certain chemicals, such as latex. Common symptoms of allergies consist of nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes. Children will often develop a crease on the top of the nose and swelling around the eyes.
If you think you have an allergy, testing can be performed which can improve treatment of allergies. Most allergy medications work better if they are taken prior to exposure to the allergen. Knowing what you are allergic to will also increase the number of treatment options.
A variety of options are available for treating allergies: avoidance, over-the-counter remedies (oral medication, topical creams or nasal sprays), prescription medication or immunotherapy (allergy shots or allergy drops). The right course of treatment depends on the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
To learn more, visit www.mountainwestmc.com and click on the Health Resources link to take an interactive allergies or asthma awareness quiz, food allergies or mold allergies quizzes, or learn how the area you live in can affect your health using the asthma zone calculator.
Remember that this information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information to facilitate conversations with their physician.
Here are some simple steps you can take on your own to control your allergy symptoms in addition to any physician-prescribed treatment methods.
Stay tuned to the forecast
The National Allergy Bureau (www.aaaai.org/nab/index.cfm) reports current pollen and mold spore levels around the country. You can check the forecast for your area, and sign up for e-mail alerts.
Remain indoors during peak pollen periods
When outdoor pollen levels are highest — particularly sunny, windy days — consider staying indoors with the windows closed during the morning hours.
Protect your nose and mouth
If you must go outdoors, consider wearing a face mask designed to filter pollen out of the air and prevent it from reaching nasal passages.
Use your home and car air filtering systems
Your home and car air conditioners can help keep out pollen and mold allergens when placed on the ‘do-not-circulate’ mode. HEPA and other special air filters are available to help reduce allergens produced in the home.
Alan Jones is an ear, nose and throat specialist. His office is located in Deseret ENT and Allergy Center, 1959 Aaron Drive, Suite F in Tooele. He can be reached at 228-0112.