What you need to know about allergies
Many people suffer from allergies - especially as the weather and seasons change - but sometimes allergies occur out of nowhere and those affected need to seek medical attention to understand what's happening.
Jason Casselman, DO, an allergist for Reid Health, explains what individuals need to know about the difference between seasonal allergies and those that are more permanent or even life-threatening.
"With seasonal allergies, you think of nasal and eye allergy symptoms," Dr. Casselman said. "But there can also be perennial allergens that we react to such as pets in the home, dust mites, and molds that can affect folks all year round."
What is the difference between seasonal allergies, asthma, and food allergies?
When evaluating the different types of allergens most common today, there are many similarities between those that are seasonal, asthma-related, and those caused by food. Many people have symptoms that can resemble other allergies, the common cold, or other illnesses, which makes it difficult to diagnose a specific cause.
"The difference can be very hard to identify, in the sense that symptoms can be very similar and different folks can react to different things," Dr. Casselman said. "Depending on what you're reacting to and whether it's seasonal or perennial, patients can complain of symptoms at different times of the year versus all year round.
"With asthma specifically, there are cases that are related to allergies and those that are separate."
Individuals need to be diligent about their symptoms because one could be caused by an allergy, while another other could be a sign of something more. Colds generally have other types of symptoms that accompany them such as fevers, a cough, or a sore throat that doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.
What causes allergies?
"The reason we believe allergies exist is because of the hygiene hypothesis," Dr. Casselman said. "We've become so hygienic and try to eliminate exposure to these allergens in the environment, but our immune system really needs exposure to build that immunity. It's becoming more and more prevalent."
Allergy cases are on the rise, with more and more people not being exposed to allergens in the environment, causing them to react differently when they are exposed to specific particles.
Treatment options for allergies
There are several treatment options to choose from when fighting allergies. Certain options might be more effective than others, so it's important for the patient to talk with their doctor to figure out the best one for their specific needs.
"We generally start with what's called a skin test, based on common allergens in the region," Dr. Casselman said. "After the results have been processed, we talk about environmental measures to eliminate exposure to the things the patient is allergic to. Then, we discuss medication."
Medication involves three categories of substances that relieve symptoms either temporarily or permanently:
- Topicals such as nasal sprays and eye drops
- Oral and systemic drugs in the form of tablets or capsules
- Allergy immunotherapy, which is applied through injections
Each person is unique and will have varying levels of severity for their specific type of allergy. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctor about their circumstances.
"It's never a bad idea to get in with an allergist and at least have a discussion," Dr. Casselman said. "Allergy testing seems like a scary thing. It's really not. Most of the testing we do now is needle free.
"It's very easy. It usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and it will give us a lot of information."