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Feature:
Seasonal Allergies

Diagnosis, Treatment & Research

Diagnosis

Testing for Allergies

Knowing exactly what you are allergic to can help you lessen or prevent exposure and treat your reactions. There are several tests to pinpoint allergies:

  • Allergy skin tests—Allergy skin testing provides rapid results within a few minutes. The most common test is the "prick test," which involves pricking the skin with the extract of a specific allergen, then observing the skin's reaction.
  • Serum-specific IgE antibody testing—These blood tests provide information similar to allergy skin testing.

Treatment for Allergies:

For allergy sufferers, it is worth trying to avoid the offending allergens. This may be difficult, however, when the very air we breathe is loaded with allergens, such as ragweed pollen. Various over-the-counter or prescription medications can relieve symptoms.

  • Antihistamines. These medications counter the effects of histamine, the substance that makes eyes water and noses itch and causes sneezing during allergic reactions. Sleepiness was a problem with the oldest antihistamines, but the newest drugs do not cause such a problem. Antihistamines come as pills or nose sprays.
  • Nasal steroids. These anti-inflammatory sprays reduce the sensitivity of the nose to allergens and decrease inflammation, swelling, and mucus production. They work well alone and in combination with antihistamines, particularly antihistamine nasal sprays; in recommended doses, they are relatively free of side effects.
  • Cromolyn sodium. A nasal spray, cromolyn sodium may reduce symptoms, perhaps by blocking release of histamine and other symptom-producing chemicals. It has few side effects, but requires frequent dosing.
  • Decongestants. Available in pill and spray form, decongestants reduce swelling and sinus discomfort. Intended for short-term use, they are usually used in combination with antihistamines. Long-term usage of spray decongestants can actually make symptoms worse, while decongestant pills do not have this problem.
  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy (allergy shots or tablets that dissolve under the tongue) might provide relief for patients who don't find relief with antihistamines or nasal steroids. Immunotherapy alters the body's immune response to allergens, thereby helping to prevent allergic reactions. It is the only form of treatment that can induce long-lasting protection after therapy is stopped. Allergy shots can be used for many other allergies, seasonal and non-seasonal. Allergy shots can sometimes cause allergic reactions, which may go beyond local itching and swelling. In rare instances, these reactions can be severe. Immunotherapy, with under-the-tongue, self-dissolving tablets, is only available for ragweed and grass, but it is a very safe form of treatment.

Is It a Cold or an Allergy?

Is it a Cold or an Allergy
Symptoms Cold Airborne Allergy
Cough Common Sometimes
General Aches, Pains Slight Never
Fatigue, Weakness Sometimes Sometimes
Itchy Eyes Rare or Never Common
Sneezing Usual Usual
Sore Throat Common Sometimes
Runny Nose Common Common
Stuffy Nose Common Common
Fever Rare Never
Duration 3 to 14 days Weeks (for example, 6 weeks for ragweed or grass pollen seasons)
Treatment
  • Decongestants
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal steroids
  • Decongestants
  • Cromolyn
  • Immunotherapy
Prevention
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid close contact with anyone with a cold
  • Avoid those things that you are allergic to, such as pollen, house dust mites, mold, pet dander, cockroaches
Complications
  • Sinus infection
  • Middle ear infection
  • Asthma exacerbation
  • Sinus infection
  • Asthma exacerbation

Seasonal Allergy Research at NIH

  • Asthma and Allergic Diseases Cooperative Research Centers: In 1971, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) established its Asthma and Allergic Diseases Centers to conduct basic and clinical research on the mechanisms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of asthma and allergic diseases.
  • Immune Tolerance Network (ITN): The ITN is a consortium of investigators, dedicated to the development and evaluation of novel, tolerance-inducing therapies for disorders of the immune system, including asthma and allergic rhinitis.
  • Inner-City Asthma Consortium: Since 1991, the NIAID has funded research on asthma in low-income, urban areas with the goal of improving the treatment of children living in environments where asthma is a major health problem. The Inner City Asthma Consortium also conducts research on nasal allergy
  • Allergen Epitope Research and Validation Centers: The goal of this NIAID program is to identify the portions of allergy-inducing molecules that immune system cells and IgE antibodies recognize, and to develop therapies that block these portions from causing allergic reactions.

Seasonal Allergies: Nuisance or Real Health Threat?

For most people, hay fever is a seasonal problem—something to endure for a few weeks once or twice a year. But for others, such allergies can lead to more serious complications, including sinusitis and asthma.

  • Sinusitis is one of the most commonly reported chronic diseases and costs almost $6 billion a year to manage. It is caused by inflammation or infection of the four pairs of cavities behind the nose. Congestion in them can lead to pressure and pain over the eyes, around the nose, or in the cheeks just above the teeth. Chronic sinusitis is associated with persistent inflammation and is often difficult to treat. Extended bouts of hay fever can increase the likelihood of chronic sinusitis. But only half of all people with chronic sinusitis have allergies.
  • Asthma is a lung disease that narrows or blocks the airways. This causes wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and other breathing difficulties. Asthma attacks can be triggered by viral infections, cold air, exercise, anxiety, allergens, and other factors. Almost 80 percent of people with asthma have allergies, but we do not know to what extent the allergies trigger the breathing problems. However, some people are diagnosed with allergic asthma because the problem is set off primarily by an immune response to one or more specific allergens. Most of the time, the culprit allergens are those found indoors, such as pets, house dust mites, cockroaches, and mold. Increased pollen and mold levels have also been associated with worsening asthma.
Read More "Seasonal Allergies" Articles

Managing Your Seasonal Allergies / Diagnosis, Treatment & Research

Spring 2015 Issue: Volume 10 Number 1 Page 26-27