Q: What are allergies?
A: Allergies are an exaggerated immune response to an otherwise harmless substance the body mistakenly perceives as a threat. When pollen, dust, mold or another allergen is encountered, the immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulins. These defend the body by flooding the bloodstream with chemicals called histamines that are designed to attack the invader. Unfortunately, in doing so histamines produce a variety of unpleasant – and sometimes even life-threatening – symptoms.
Q: What causes allergic reactions?
A: Countless ordinary substances can cause an exaggerated immune reaction. These are called allergens; the most common include pollen, grasses, molds, dust mites, animal dander, foods, chemicals, medicines and insect stings.
Q: What are the typical allergy symptoms?
A: People with allergic reactions experience irritation in the skin, eyes, nose, sinuses, throat and lungs. Symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, itchiness, watery eyes, sinus pressure, postnasal drip, wheezing, coughing, rash and hives.
Q: How is a patient tested for allergies?
A: There are two main methods of testing for allergies: through a skin prick test or a blood test. The skin prick method is preferred because it offers immediate results, is less expensive and is considered more accurate. Blood tests are an appropriate alternative for individuals who cannot tolerate needles, or may be extra sensitive to the suspected allergen.
Q: How are allergies treated?
A: Allergies can be treated with medications (antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroids), natural methods such as environmental control and home remedies, and immunotherapy (allergy shots).
Q: Are allergy shots effective?
A: Allergy shots, a form of immunotherapy, are a highly effective, long-term method used to reduce or eliminate allergy symptoms by enabling the body to build up a tolerance to the offending allergen. Treatment may take as long as 3-5 years, but pays off in the long run.
Q: What is sublingual immunotherapy?
A: Sublingual immunotherapy offers the same benefits as allergy shots, but the allergy extract is taken in droplet or pill form. It can be administered at home and, like immunotherapy, requires a long-term commitment.