Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
The initial step in the treatment of an allergy is an accurate diagnosis by an allergist or immunologist. It involves deciding whether the patient’s symptoms are caused by an allergy and, if so, determining what triggers the allergy as accurately as possible. The resulting diagnosis will target the appropriate treatment or clinical intervention to allow avoidance of the allergic trigger which will help to eliminate or minimize symptoms.
An accurate diagnosis is obtained using a combination of approaches and tests that can include skin-pricks and blood tests to identify and confirm a diagnosis. Treatments can include:
Control of Symptoms
These treatments can be self-administered and do not necessarily need to be based on an accurate diagnosis. Examples include the use of over the counter medications such as antihistamine creams and steroid creams for eczema and antihistamine pills for nasal symptoms that include rhinitis. More serious conditions can be treated with inhalers for asthma, skin creams for eczema and auto injectors for anaphylaxis resulting from, among other causes, insect bites, without having identified whether the condition is truly an allergy.
This approach is used mainly for allergies caused by food, drugs, venom, latex and animal dander. This can also include occupational allergies, and to a lesser extent, depending on the suspected cause, asthma, rhinitis and eczema. When using allergen avoidance, it is important to know that there may be interactions resulting from cross reactions between, to name a few, latex and fruits and vegetables as well as tree pollen and fresh fruits. While it may appear simple, avoiding allergens may be difficult to achieve, costly and may not be completely successful.
This approach is often part of an individual’s emergency self-treatment plan for acute attacks such as for acute tongue swelling or anaphylaxis that can result from insect bites.
By administering an allergen via subcutaneous injection (beneath the skin) at regular intervals over a period of time an allergist/immunologist can help desensitize a patient’s reaction to single or multiple allergens. Each allergy shot contains just enough of a specific allergen or allergens to stimulate your immune system, but not enough to cause a full allergic reaction. Over time, the dose of allergens is increased as your body builds up a tolerance to the allergens, which results in your allergy symptoms to diminish or completely resolve.
Immunotherapy may be a good treatment choice if:
- Allergy medications alone don’t control your symptoms well and you can’t easily avoid the things that cause your allergic reactions
- The allergy medications you take interact with other medications to cause side effects
- You would like to reduce your long-term dependence and use of allergy medications
- You are allergic to insect stings
These procedures are typically used to treat allergies caused by pollen rhinitis, venom, asthma and cat allergy. On occasion, the use of drugs to desensitize a patient to a particular allergen can also be used.