Allergies are considered one of America’s most common and overlooked diseases.
They are the sixth leading cause for chronic illness, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
People can encounter indoor, outdoor, skin, food and drug allergies.
“Right now at this stage in the year, tree pollen is out. Later in the spring and summer it will be grass allergies, the fall will be weed allergies and there will also be your all year round allergens,” said Dr. Kathryn Edwards, an allergist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic diseases and skin conditions. “Seasonal allergies are kicking up right about now.”
Dr. Edwards is out of the Becker ENT Center and rotates between their Princeton and Robbinsville offices.
“The top allergies that we see are year-round and seasonal, food and drug allergies,” Edwards said.
Edwards added that treatments for seasonal and perennial allergies is avoidance if possible, she said it is only really possible if you have a pet allergy, medication and then allergy shots.
Allergy shots are the final step if patients are not responding to the other treatments.
Drug allergy treatments include doctors doing penicillin testing for an allergy. Avoidance or alternative options are next if the results from the test are negative.
In a hospital setting, doctors can desensitize patients to the drug by giving them very small increasing doses till their body tolerates it, according to Edwards.
She explained that food allergy treatment is typically avoidance, EpiPen or the epi-auto injector.
“Most importantly I speak with the patient and get their history and determine from there what will be the best avenue. For some patients, it does not sound like allergies and we can forgo testing and then other patients we will do skin testing,” Edwards said. “Skin testing is the most sensitive way of testing for allergies. We can do that for environmental and food testing. We also test for drug allergies. There is only one drug standard for the testing.”
The skin test performed by doctors can take between 15-20 minutes.
“There is also blood testing for food and environmental allergies, but not for drugs. I tend to steer away from that because it is not quite as sensitive. It also takes longer for the results and we cannot test for as many allergies,” Edwards said.
Edwards explained that her recommendations on first steps for individuals depend on the person’s symptoms.
She recommends over the counter medicine (Allegra and Zyrtec), as first steps for individuals who believe that they may have a seasonal allergy.
“If medicines such as Flonase, are not helpful or able to control the symptoms, then seeking an allergist care is recommended. If they are worried about food allergies, I would suggest they see an allergist first,” Edwards said. “That can be a more fatal and life threatening allergy, so we to get those individuals the necessary treatment plan right away.”
She added that both the patient and doctor should create a plan to manage the diagnosed allergy.
“For more environmental allergens it is often more helpful to preemptively treat, before the season hits. It helps control or prevent the symptoms, because once you have them it is harder to manage them,” Edwards said. “Food allergies we have a comprehensive anaphylaxis plan, that a patient should follow in case of an emergency. We go through that with them extensively.”
Edwards added that she believes there are misconceptions when it comes to allergies.
“Allergies are spoken of so much, that most communities know allergies are a common occurrence. However, a lot people do not understand what is a true food allergy. We get a lot of patients concerned more with intolerances or sounds like something that is more related to their underlying physiology,” Edwards said. “A lot people may think they have an allergy, but it is more of an intolerance that is causing their symptoms.”
Allergies are often genetic with few interventions that have been proven to reduce the risk of preventing allergies, according to Edwards.
“For example, early introduction to some of the food that are allergenic has helped reduce the risk of developing a food allergy. Allergy shots help with environmental allergies; I would not say it is a cure. The shots can reduce or eliminate the need for medication,” Edwards said. “In terms of drug allergies, I just minimize the medications to help battle against the body’s resistance.”