Your immune system is your body’s defense mechanism against viruses, bacteria, allergens, and other foreign invaders. When the body detects a harmful or foreign invader, an immunoresponse is triggered – it’s at that time when the body mobilizes its antibodies that attach themselves to the items that seek to do us harm. On the other hand, our response to allergens is quite the opposite; one in which our bodies create a reaction that is based on the type of allergy and manner by which we are exposed. Some people are allergic to certain foods; others have allergic responses to environmental factors such as dust, dander and mold. The most common allergic reactions include itchy, watery eyes; a runny nose and itchy skin. People who are allergic to certain medications (e.g., penicillin), manmade materials (e.g., latex), foods or bee stings often experience extreme reactions that can include hives, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis and, in of the most extreme cases – death. The good news is your allergies can be treated, making your life bearable and allowing you to enjoy things you otherwise would not. Here’s how.
Treating Your Allergies
If your allergies are more of an inconvenience than severe, you can usually find an effective over-the-counter treatment. A pharmacist can help you select the treatment that is right for you based on your symptoms. If your allergies are more severe and interfering with daily life, an allergist can help you diagnose your triggers and then devise a treatment plan that is right for you. Depending on the type of allergy and its severity, your treatment plan may include –
- Doctors prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and mucus build-up. In spray or oral form, they can relieve sinus-related symptoms by reducing inflammation and mucus in the nasal passageways; they can also help relieve an itchy, runny nose. In a cream or ointment, corticosteroids can be applied topically to soothe irritated skin and relieve inflammation.
- Antihistamines block the effects of the chemical histamine that is released by your immune system during an allergy attack. Taken orally or as a nasal spray, they can relieve sneezing, a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, hives and a swollen or scratchy nose or throat. Used topically in cream or lotion form, they can reduce itching and swelling caused by allergic reactions to poison ivy, insect bites, or contact rashes.
- Decongestants. Taken in pill or liquid form, decongestants can provide temporary relief to clear nasal passages or reduce sinus pressure. Be wary as many decongestants also contain stimulants for daytime use, as well as pain relievers such as Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen, which may be fine for cold or flu but serve little purpose to relieve allergy symptoms. Regarding nasal decongestants, they are fine to clear out nasal passages and wash away mucus, however, decongestants that contain oxymetazoline should only be used for a brief period, as their side effects may include blurred vision, dizziness and high blood pressure. In fact, prolonged use can actually make congestion worse. When considering non-prescription nasal sprays, opt for saline-based solutions, which softens the mucus and removes allergens by cleansing the nasal passageways.
- Immunotherapy is used to reduce allergic reactions by exposing the person to controlled, small doses of the allergen through shots or drops in order to build up the immune system resistance.
- Epinephrine is an emergency treatment for the most severe reactions that result in anaphylaxis (a severe and life threatening allergic reaction). It comes in a pre-measured, self-injectable device (commonly known as an EpiPen) to deliver adrenaline to the body and is the most effective treatment for anaphylaxis while waiting for emergency help to arrive.
Knowing what you are allergic to is the best first step to conquering your allergies. Start by scheduling an allergy diagnostic test to rule out foods, fauna and environmental factors that trigger you. Located in Washington, Oregon and now, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lynx Healthcare has a board-certified allergist-immunologist on staff who is specially trained to treat allergies and other immune system related diseases. To make an appointment at one of our Lynx Healthcare clinics, call us at (509) 591-0070, or contact us online today.