Allergic reactions are no fun. In fact, symptoms from allergies can range from sneezing, congestion, watery eyes, and runny nose to tingling or swelling in the face or throat, hives, rashes, or wheezing. Some allergies are seasonal, but others can last all year long if you’re allergic to things like dust mites or mold.
Allergies are one of the most common ailments affecting roughly 50 million children and adults across the country. And Florida ranks first among all states for the highest allergy count. Knowing what you can do to treat allergies can help you break free of their grip and minimize their symptoms now and over the long haul.
“One of the best things patients can do is to identify the triggers,” says Hao “Mimi” Tran, M.D., F.A.C.S., a board-certified otolaryngologist at the Ear, Nose, Throat & Plastic Surgery Associates, receives in her daily clinical practice. Below she shares her insights on how you can identify the allergens that make you react and what you can do to treat and impede their effects.
Allergies occur when your immune system mistakes a harmless substance, such as pollen, food, or mold for a foreign invader and launches an attack against it. The cells of your immune system release histamines and sends out other chemicals to deal with the situation, leading to an unpleasant allergic reaction.
The most common allergens include:
- Pollen and plants
- Certain medications
- Animal dander
- Dust mites
- Insect bites
- Certain foods (eggs, dairy products, peanuts, and shellfish)
“Allergies have a very common symptom profile as well,” says Dr. Tran. “You don’t get the fever, the discolored mucus, or a cough. Allergies also have a well-known trigger — if you’ve been outdoors, around cats or other allergenic triggers.”
Allergy symptoms can vary depending on the allergen and how severely it affects the body. Symptoms can impact the nasal passageways, sinuses, air cavities, the skin, and digestive system. Allergens can cause nonirritating to annoying to life-threatening symptoms.
Typical symptoms for nasal allergies can include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Feeling under the weather
Itchiness or swelling in the mouth or face can be brought on by food allergies. A rash or shortness of breath can result from medication allergies, and bee or insect stings can cause extensive swelling at the bite location, wheezing, intense itching, or tightness in the chest. Some allergies can last year-round depending if you’re allergic to dust mites or mold, but sometimes they can be more seasonal with trees, pollen, and grasses.
Take Control of Your Allergies
According to Dr. Tran, the first step in combating allergies is to start documenting them. Then you can be proactive in choosing the treatment that works best for you.
“Take a good diary of what may be triggering your allergy, whether it’s outside inhalant pollen or indoor things like dust mites,” says Dr. Tran. “Is your nasal congestion worse at night? Once you’ve identified what you may be allergic to, you can try some over-the-counter antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra, or Zyrtec. They typically work best about an hour before exposure to what you may be allergic to.”
For patients experiencing adverse nasal symptoms, Dr. Tran is quick to point out that some readily available nasal sprays may be able to provide instant relief. “If you have a lot of nasal symptoms like runny nose, nasal stuffiness, sneezing, a nasal steroid spray or even a nasal antihistamine spray would be beneficial and may be all you need,” she says.
Dr. Tran recommends over-the-counter medicines like Flonase, Nasonex, and Rhinocort. Prescription nasal sprays are also available depending on the severity of one’s symptoms. Another type of medication that works for allergies, called Singulair, helps both allergies and asthma.
Allergy Testing for Persistent Symptoms
For people who can’t find relief from their symptoms over the medium term, Dr. Tran recommends testing to pinpoint the culprit and evaluate further treatment options. “If your symptoms (seasonal or year-round) persist for more than two years, you may want to find out what you’re allergic to with allergy testing,” she says.
“Once the skin testing is done, the options for treatment are desensitization therapy. What that means is exposing you to a little bit of what you are allergic to over the course of three to five years, so your body can develop immunity to those allergens.”
“There are different ways to get immunotherapy,” Dr. Tran continues. “Patients can get allergy shots, and now there’s a novel way to desensitize the immune system with allergy drops which are given underneath the tongue.”
If you have any questions or to learn more about how you can treat allergies, please feel free to contact us.