Allergy symptoms appear when the immune system reacts to an allergic substance that has entered the body as though it was an unwelcome invader. The immune system will produce special antibodies capable of recognizing the same allergic substance if it enters the body at a later time.
When an allergen reenters the body, the immune system rapidly recognizes it causing a series of reactions. These reactions often involve tissue destruction, blood vessel dilation, and production of many inflammatory substances including histamine. Histamine produces common allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, nasal and sinus congestion, headaches, sneezing, scratchy throat, hives, shortness of breath, etc. Other less common symptoms are balance disturbances, skin irritations such as eczema, and even respiratory problems like asthma.
Many common substances can be allergens. Pollens, food, mold, dust, feathers, animal dander, chemicals, drugs such as penicillin, and environmental pollutants commonly cause many to suffer allergic reactions.
Pollens: One of the most significant causes of allergic rhinitis in the United States is ragweed. It begins pollinating in late August and continues until the first frost. Late springtime pollens come from the grasses, i.e., timothy, orchard, red top, sweet vernal, Bermuda, Johnson, and some bluegrasses. Early springtime hay fever is most often caused by pollens of trees such as elm, maple, birch, poplar, beech, ash, oak, walnut, sycamore, cypress, hickory, pecan, cottonwood, and alder. Colorful or fragrant flowering plants rarely cause allergy symptoms because their pollens are too heavy to be airborne.
Household allergens: Certain allergens are present all year long. These include house dust, pet danders, some foods and chemicals. Symptoms from these are frequently worse in the winter when the house is closed up and where there is poor ventilation.
Mold: Mold spores can also cause allergy problems. Molds are present all year long, and grow outdoors and indoors. Dead leaves and farm areas are common sources for outdoor molds. Indoor plants, old books, bathrooms, and damp areas are common sources of indoor mold growth. Mold is also common in foods, such as cheese and fermented beverages.
Allergies are rarely life threatening, but often cause lost work days, decreased work efficiency, poor school performance, and a negative effect on the quality of life. Considering the millions spent on antiallergy medications and the cost of lost work time, allergies cannot be considered a minor problem.
For some allergy sufferers symptoms may be seasonal, but for others it is a year-round discomfort. Allergy symptom control is most successful when multiple management approaches are used simultaneously. They may include minimizing exposure to allergens, desensitization with allergy shots, and medications.
If used properly, medications, including antihistamines, nasal decongestant sprays, steroid sprays, saline sprays, and cortisone-type preparations, provided by your Miami allergist, can be helpful. Even over-the-counter drugs can be beneficial, but some may cause drowsiness.
The most appropriate person to evaluate allergy problems is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist). Aside from gathering a detailed history and completing a thorough examination of the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck, your doctor or Miami allergist will offer advice on proper environmental control and evaluate the sinuses to determine if infection or structural abnormality (deviated septum, polyps) is contributing to the symptoms.
In addition, the doctor may advise testing to determine the specific allergen that is causing discomfort. In some cases, immunotherapy or allergy shots may be recommended, or an alternative allergy treatment option. Immunotherapy is a unique treatment because it induces the build up of protective antibodies to specific allergens.
If you suspect you may have an allergy, don’t underestimate the possibility that you could be right. Each year, more than 50 million Americans are affected by allergies. They are the sixth largest cause of chronic illness, and treating them in the U.S. alone costs more than $18 billion each year.
Only an allergist can tell you with certainty whether you belong in this group, but if you are suspicious it makes good sense to have a consultation. This is not a rare affliction, and it’s one that is usually easy to manage.
Some of the symptoms of a common cold are very similar to the symptoms of allergies. How can you differentiate between the two?
Runny noses, watery eyes, congestion and other symptoms are common to both. Don’t follow your nose. If you think that the color of the material you see when you blow your nose is a clue one way or the other, you are mistaken.
However, there are differences between the two.
Even though the symptoms you are experiencing are having a big impact on your quality of life, there’s an excellent chance that the right treatment can make a big difference very quickly. If you suspect that allergies may be making you miserable, a qualified allergist, such as our South Florida and Miami allergists, is your best friend.
If you are fairly sure that exposure to certain environmental factors (spring flowers, for example) sets you into a cycle of misery, you always have the option to try to “live with” your problems. But if that isn’t working, here are good some reasons to make an appointment with an allergist:
As frustrating as these problems can be, it won’t take forever for South Florida ENT Associates to help you put them behind you.
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