We made it through the spring season and now summer is upon us. While many may think it’s the end of allergy season, allergies and asthma can actually be year-round problems due to house dust mites, pets and even indoor mold spores. Unfortunately, many patients experience a surge of symptoms as the seasons evolve.
“The peak tree pollen season is behind us, but we’re still in grass pollen season, and the peak weed pollen season is yet to come,” said St. Anthony Board Certified Allergist and Immunologist Edward Murphy, M.D.
Although commonly considered to be heredity, anyone can develop allergies at any age. Environmental factors can make one’s immune system overly sensitive which can then activate allergies. Allergens enter the body through a variety of ways – breathing, eating/drinking, injection, or contact with skin or eyes. According to Dr. Murphy the most common allergens include pollen, mold, animal hair and dander, dust mites, penicillin and numerous food allergens. Symptoms include but are not limited to – watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, skin rash, hives or difficulty breathing.
Asthma can have an allergic basis and activate symptoms such as cough, wheeze, shortness of breath and chest tightness. These same symptoms can also be found in nasal and ocular allergies. “Symptoms of asthma for younger children may include frequent respiratory tract infections, unusual sounds or ‘feelings’ in their chest and excessive irritability,” explained Dr. Murphy. Both allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma can be diagnosed with allergy skin testing, in which a small amount of purified extract is placed on a patient’s back and/or arms. A small reaction of the immune cells and chemicals within the skin occurs if the patient is allergic. Patients who do not react to skin testing may have non-allergic forms of rhinitis and asthma.
Treatment of allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma is directed at reducing the inflammation that results from immune reactions generated by the allergen. Medications may work to reduce a patient’s symptoms but long-term control of allergies is best achieved by immunotherapy, which is a method of reprogramming one’s immune system to tolerate rather than react to specific allergens. “The worsening of a patient’s condition may be prevented by following the individualized treatment plan which may include environmental control, medications and immunotherapy,” said Dr. Murphy. There are two types of immunotherapy that are used, either allergy shots in the arms or allergy drops under the tongue. Both methods are effective and there are advantages and disadvantages of each.
While over the counter medications may be a first step of treatment for many allergic individuals, full evaluation with skin testing by a board certified allergist and formulation of a definitive treatment plan may provide the best chance for people to enjoy their summer.