What is an Allergy?

Allergy is a condition, often inherited, in which the immune system of the affected person reacts to something that is either eaten, touched, or inhaled that doesn't affect most other people. The patient's immune system reacts to this substance as if it were an "enemy invader" (like a virus). This reaction leads to symptoms that often adversely affect the patient's work, play, rest, and overall quality of life.

Allergens Cause Allergies

Any substance that triggers an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Allergens "invade" the body by being inhaled, swallowed or injected, or they may be absorbed through the skin. Common allergens include pollen, dust and mold.

How Common are Allergies?

Allergies are among the nation's most common and costly health problems. They affect as many as one in four people. More than 50 millions Americans have allergic rhinitis. The yearly sales of antihistamines, decongestants, nasal cromolyn and nasal corticosteroids now exceeds $5 billion.

What are symptoms of Ear, Nose and Throat Allergies?

People often think of allergy as only "hay fever" with sneezing, runny nose, nasal stuffiness and itchy, watery eyes. However, allergies can also cause symptoms such as chronic sinus problems, excessive nasal and throat drainage (post nasal drip), head congestion, frequent colds, hoarse voice, eczema (skin allergies), recurring ear infections, hearing loss, dizziness, chronic cough and asthma. Even stomach and intestinal problems as well as excessive fatigue can be symptoms of allergy. Symptoms of ear, nose, and throat allergies may include:

  • Related sneezing
  • Nasal itching and rubbing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Crease across bridge of nose
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Mouth breathing
  • Diminished/lost sense of smell/taste
  • Recurrent, unexplained nosebleeds
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Recurrent sinus infections
  • Fluctuating hearing loss
  • Cold-like symptoms more than 10 days
  • Symptoms recur same time each year
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Symptoms can range from mild to severe.

The greater the frequency and/or amount of exposure, the greater the chance that the susceptible person will develop an allergic problem that will require treatment.

What causes Symptoms to Begin?

There is no "usual" way for an allergy to begin: the onset may be sudden or gradual. Often. symptoms develop following an unusual stress to the immune symptom, such as a severe viral infection.

Can an Allergy be Outgrown?

No, but it is common for people to change the way their allergic symptoms affect them. For example. a baby may develop colic, recurrent ear infections, or have eczema. But as the baby grows older, they may develop different allergic symptoms such as hay fever, fluid behind the eardrum, or asthma.

How do we make the Diagnosis?

The initial or presumptive diagnosis of allergy is made by history and physical examination. If one wishes to be certain of the diagnosis and proceed to treat the patient effectively, the findings must be confirmed by tests that identify the specific offending allergens.

Who can treat my Allergies?

Because allergies can produce such a wide range of symptoms. there are a number of providers, both specialists and primary care physicians, who may be qualified to treat the allergic patient.

What is Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)?

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is an alternative way to treat allergies without injections. An allergist gives a patient small doses of an allergen under the tongue to boost tolerance to the substance and reduce symptoms. Currently, the only forms of SLIT approved by the FDA are tablets for ragweed, northern pasture grasses like timothy, and dust mites. The safety and efficacy of allergy drops is still being established by the FDA, and they are only used off-label in the United States.

How Is Treatment Administered?

An allergist must first use allergy testing to confirm the patient’s sensitivities. Once this is determined, an allergen extract is prepared in drop form or the tablet is prescribed. The patient is directed to keep it under the tongue for one to two minutes and then swallow it. The process is repeated from three days a week to as often as daily with recommendations that therapy is continued for three to five years to develop a lasting immunity. For grass and ragweed allergies, you typically take the tablet before and during the allergy season. For dust mite, you take the tablet year-round. The length of your treatment is based on which tablets you are taking, and input from your allergist.