By: Mark Welch | Category: Health & Fitness | Issue: November 2009
Fanny Campbell feels like she has a new lease on life after receiving allergy testing from Dr. Welch.
Forty-five million Americans suffer from a recurring problem called “allergy,” a disease that expresses itself through itching eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion and drainage, and headache. Some people also experience hearing changes, scratchy sore throats, hoarseness and cough. Other less common symptoms include balance disturbances, swelling in face or throat tissues, skin irritations, and even respiratory problems and asthma. Nonetheless, when asked if they feel bad, many reply, “It’s just allergies,” though they do not know exactly what is bothering them.
New technology that is faster, more precise, and more accurate is making it easier for allergy sufferers to find relief. Gone are the days of spending hours on end in the office of your allergist, or being “scratched” on your back or other part of your body. While skin testing remains an option for testing patients, it may not be the most accurate. The problem with skin testing, and particularly scratch testing, is the number of false positives and false negatives it produces. Therefore, patients who have been receiving allergy desensitization shots based on results from scratch testing may be at risk. An advanced technique allows rapid testing through a single blood draw and is extremely accurate for allergens such as dust, animal dander, grasses, trees and weeds.
One of the many advantages of testing patients through their blood is the time required in the office – it is substantially reduced. In addition, patients do not have to stop taking their allergy medications to be tested. It is also safer, because there is no possibility of a life-threatening reaction.
The only major disadvantage of testing through the blood is testing for molds. Allergic reactions to pollens, animal dander, dust and some food is through a Type I hypersensitivity reaction. Thus, patients who have a history of suspicious mold allergies should use skin testing.
Candidates for allergy testing include patients who have year-round allergy symptoms, who suffer uncontrolled seasonal allergy symptoms despite taking one or more allergy medications, who receive multiple steroid injections each year, who experience recurrent episodes of sinusitis, bronchitis or ear infections, or who have uncontrolled asthma, recurrent episodes of hives or unremitting headaches.
The advantage of seeing an ENT, or otolaryngic allergist, is having a physician capable of assessing not only the physiologic cause of symptoms, but also one who is able to address anatomical causes of symptoms: for instance, a large adenoid pad in a child could cause year-round nasal obstruction and discharge, leading to chronic or recurrent sinus infections. If such anatomic issues are not addressed, a patient may not see improvement even while receiving allergy desensitization shots. In addition, they may have been needlessly exposed to these allergens during their treatment.
It has been estimated that up to 80 percent of patients with chronic or recurrent episodes of sinusitis is due to allergic disease. If just surgery alone is performed, improvement may be noted for a while, only to recur because the root of the problem has not been addressed. Surgery may not have been necessary at all.
Treatment of allergic disease comes down to three strategies: avoidance of the allergen, allergy medications, and allergy desensitization shots (immunotherapy). Through being tested for inhalant allergy and food allergy (if indicated), a patient will know exactly what they are allergic to, and strategies for environmental control and avoidance can be instituted. While allergy medicines are a key part to managing allergic disease, they must be used properly, and certain allergy medicines can be harmful. Also, most allergy patients are already taking one or more medicines.
The most definitive treatment available for allergic disease today is allergy desensitization shots. A typical course of immunotherapy involves receiving injections once or twice a week for three to five years to achieve long-lasting effects. While patients will still have some allergic symptoms, substantial improvement is expected, and the treatment is effective in 90 percent of patients properly diagnosed.
Testing and treatment of food allergies is also a key part of the success of many allergy patients. The vast majority of patients who have food allergies don’t realize it because the food they are eating does not cause immediate symptoms. This delayed pattern of food allergy is by far the most common type of food allergy, as well as the most difficult to diagnose.
If you don’t know what is bothering you, the physicians at the Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy Center can find out. Call
(918) 341-5088 or visit www.entallergycenter.com to learn more.