Allergy Shots

For some people, allergy symptoms can be mildly annoying; for others, they have the potential to kill. But at what point should people enlist the help of an allergy specialist?

"People should see a specialist for several reasons, but the most important is to get an accurate diagnosis," says Pamela Harris, MD, an asthma and allergic disease specialist at Park Nicollet Clinic. "Once we know what exactly is causing the allergies, we can develop effective strategies to avoid the triggers and prevent the symptoms." People also should see a specialist if their allergies interfere with everyday activities or if their symptoms are not adequately controlled with over-the-counter medications.

Know your enemy

"Not all sneezing or congestion is caused by allergies," Dr. Harris continues. "Before undergoing drastic measures to avoid dust mites, it is important to determine whether dust mites actually are triggering your symptoms." Congestion and sneezing can be caused by reasons other than allergies including infections, structural abnormalities and medications.

Skin tests are the most common method for determining which substances, or allergens, trigger allergy symptoms, source c4 pre workout. "We take a small amount of a suspected allergen and scratch the skin. If the area becomes red, itchy and swollen within 15 minutes, the test is considered positive," Dr. Harris explains. "Patients say the most uncomfortable part of the test is that a positive reaction feels like a mosquito bite."

Three plans of attack

"Our main goal is to prevent allergy symptoms from occurring," Dr. Harris says. The best ways to do this are to avoid the triggers, use medications to treat the symptom and immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, if appropriate.

1.) Avoid allergy triggers. While it may be easy to avoid some triggers, pollen and other airborne allergens can be especially difficult to avoid. Based on your specific allergens, you can work with your allergy doctor to formulate an avoidance plan that can work for you and your lifestyle.

Also, some people can be exposed to triggers unexpectedly, as is the case with bee stings and certain foods. If someone is prone to severe allergic reactions, it's important to be prepared with emergency medications.

2.) Use medications. Many allergy symptoms resulting from hay fever can be treated successfully with oral antihistamines alone or with a decongestant. Preventive medications also are available by prescription only.

"Since medications may take several days of consistent use to achieve their maximum effect, I advise my patients to start treatment before symptoms become severe. This is especially important when treating seasonal allergies," Dr. Harris says.

3.) Undergo immunotherapy. Allergy shots reduce the immune system's sensitivity to specific allergens. "Although allergy shots are not a cure, they can take a life-threatening reaction and make it far less severe," Dr. Harris explains. "For example, if someone experiences anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction from a bee sting, allergy shots can help decrease the risk of dying if stung again."

Patients receive weekly injections of specific allergens for about four to six months. Afterward, they receive a "maintenance dosage" once or twice a month. It may take up to one year before a patient notices an improvement in allergy symptoms.

Allergy shots are especially effective against pollen, dust mites, animal dander and insect stings. At this time shots cannot be used to treat food allergies. For more information on allergy shots, visit Park Nicollet's asthma and allergic diseases web site.

Some allergens can trigger anaphylaxis, a life-threatening whole-body allergic condition that includes a drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing. People who are susceptible to this reaction should always carry injectable epinephrine, an emergency medication that helps improve breathing and treat symptoms. If used, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.