Is it Time for an Allergy Evaluation?

By: Mark B. Van Deusen, M.D.

Over 50 million Americans have a condition known as allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as “hay fever”, or simply, “allergies”. Symptoms of allergic rhinitis can include nasal congestion, sneezing, increased mucous production, post-nasal drainage, cough, and itchy eyes. More severe symptoms include loss of sense of smell, chronic sinus infections, facial pain or pressure, headaches, and chronic fatigue. Depending on the allergy, some people can have symptoms year round, while others have seasonal symptoms. Interestingly, allergy symptoms can develop at any age and symptoms can change over time.

When a person has an allergy it means their immune system reacts to inhaled, ingested, or touched substances that should not typically cause a problem. Substances that cause this inflammatory response within the body are known as allergens. Common allergens include various tree, grass, and weed pollens, molds, dog or cat dander, dust mites, and various foods. In-office skin testing is an efficient and accurate way to test a person’s response to these allergens and grade their severity. This information is valuable for the both patient and physician. Patients can attempt to avoid certain allergens (if possible) and the physician can plan the most effective treatment strategy.

Treatments to control allergy symptoms include over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, steroid nasal sprays, and anti-histamine nasal sprays. Some of these medicines need to be prescribed by a doctor. Allergy immunotherapy is another treatment option. The goal of immunotherapy is to eliminate the body’s inflammatory response to allergens over time. Examples of immunotherapy include allergy shots or allergy drops. These are utilized to re-program a person’s immune system to become tolerant of allergens so they do not cause the inflammatory response that leads to symptoms.

For springtime allergy sufferers, now is the time to set up an appointment with your ear, nose, and throat doctor. Treatment should start before symptoms appear. A thorough history and physical exam is sufficient for an initial diagnosis and treatment plan. A discussion with your physician will help determine if allergy testing should be performed. A nasal and sinus examination can also identify any variations in anatomy that may be contributing to symptoms. Addressing allergies and any contributing factors can lead to a significant improvement in quality of life. If you have never been evaluated for allergy symptoms, now is a great time to see your doctor and start feeling better.