Spring is in full swing and along with the beautiful blooms comes sneezing and itchy eyes for many of us suffering from allergies. From environmental allergies and hypoallergenic pets, there are a lot of misconceptions about allergies. Making this the perfect time to go over some of the most common allergy myths to clear up any misunderstandings you might have and get your facts straight as well as learn about some affective ways to find relief.
MYTH 1 – It's Just a Cold. Colds which are triggered by many different types of respiratory viruses, usually last about 7-10 days. Sometimes fever and body aches accompany the congestion, headache symptoms. Allergies make you feel like you're getting a cold, but the symptoms last for weeks. Of course, nasal congestion, itchy watery eyes, cough, and sometimes wheezing are typical symptoms of nasal inhalant allergies.
MYTH 2 - I don't have hives, so I'm not allergic. Itching without obvious rashes or hives (urticaria) can still be a result of inhalant allergies from pollen, animal dander or even foods. It is important to recognize when the itching occurs and where on the body, whether it is triggered by eating, associated with reflux or associated with what appears to be eczema. Seasonal patterns, reaction to heat or cold, increased reflux, dry, scaling, and of course itching skin will signal a problem with an allergy to something and needs to be investigated.
MYTH 3 - I have a hypoallergenic dog, so I don’t have to worry about my allergies. This is not true. Actually there is no such thing as an hypoallergenic dog although some are less ‘allergic’ than others. The irritant that we react to from animals is dander. Dander can be on the dogs skin, in their saliva and urine making exposure likely no matter what breed of animal you have.
MYTH 4 - There is no treatment for allergies. There are several treatment options available for allergies. The antihistamines are well-known and can be purchased over the counter or by prescription. Other meds like Montelukast (Singulair) will block the cellular responses to allergens. Zantac (Ranitidine) will work as an antihistamine which targets histamine receptors in the GI tract and is often used for symptoms of reflux. This can be used instead of or in conjunction with anti acids and PPI’s.
So, how do you know if you have allergies to pollens, animal dander or foods and how do you treat them?
Conventional allergy testing using a serum containing allergens which are injected under the skin (intradermal) using individual needles (prick testing) or prongs are performed by most physicians. Unfortunately, this testing does not always document the allergic reaction since they are not exposure specific. So often, patients will complain of allergies yet the testing doesn’t support the symptoms.
Elimination or lessening of exposure is an option, however you can't avoid every blade of grass, weed, tree or mold. In my practice we perform what is known as serial end point neutralization testing, a lengthy intradermal skin testing that can demonstrate allergies to all inhalants and even food proteins, but can also determine at which level of exposure the patient responds. So many patients who were told they are NOT allergic based on negative testing, have been proven positive using this method.
Once levels of positive reactions are determined a conventional allergy serum can be prepared and you can get allergy shots weekly for several years. You can work on a food elimination diet where trigger foods are avoided or rotated into the weekly diet. Or, with serial end point testing, you can have a custom allergy serum prepared that addresses the level at which your immune system is ‘neutral’ and stops responding to those allergens. This is what I do in my practice. It has been approved by the American College of Allergy and Immunology and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine in the 1980’s, but is not offered by most physicians. The clinical response in my patients has been excellent and many of those who had been told that they have no allergies yet continued to have symptoms.
Interested in pursuing other methods of diagnosing and treating your allergies, regardless of what you were told in the past?
Next time I will talk about Histamine and how this natural hormone-like chemical can affect our well-being and health.