New season, same allergy symptoms: What you should know this winter


Posted: December 18, 2019 | Word Count: 926

Winter is here, and along with cooler temperatures, you may be surprised to learn that many people experience a surge in certain types of allergies.

More than 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from different types of allergies each year.[1] In fact, they’re a leading cause of chronic illness in America. They’re caused by the body’s immune system overreacting to a normally harmless substance like pollen or pet dander.[2] When someone with allergies to substances in the environment — pollen or dust mites, for example — comes into contact with an allergen, the body forms antibodies that trigger a chemical response, causing symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, congestion, or itchy, watery eyes.[3]

A person can be allergic to different types of allergens in the environment, including outdoor allergens like pollen from trees, grass and ragweed. These are known as seasonal allergens and they typically occur during certain times of the year.[1],[4] Indoor allergens can include dust mites, pet dander and molds and can cause symptoms year round.[1],[4] Both indoor and outdoor allergens can cause allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, which affects the nose, mouth and throat, along with itchy, watery eyes called conjunctivitis.[3] It’s important to know what’s causing the allergy, so it can be treated effectively.

“Many people suffer needlessly from allergic rhinitis,” said Dr. Dennis Ledford, a board-certified Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Specialist in private practice in Tampa Bay, FL. “They often spend years trying to manage symptoms that remain uncontrolled or poorly controlled and avoid getting a proper diagnosis, which can be incredibly helpful in identifying the right treatment.”

Environmental Allergy Treatments

Treatment includes allergy immunotherapy (AIT) and allergy medicines. AIT works with the body naturally to treat the underlying cause of allergies. It trains the immune system gradually to stop attacking allergens, eliminating or significantly reducing symptoms.[5] With AIT, small amounts of the specific environmental allergy trigger are introduced into the body so the immune system can slowly learn to tolerate them better.[5],[6] AIT may even reduce a person’s chances of getting new allergies.[5]

Sublingual immunotherapy tablets (SLIT-tablets) are a form of AIT. They’re FDA-approved prescription medications taken daily.[7] The first dose is taken at the doctor’s office, and then the tablet is taken once daily at home.[8] Because AIT treats the underlying cause of allergies, it can help significantly reduce symptoms and the need for allergy medications.[2]

Allergy shots, also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy, are another form of AIT. They contain extracts individually mixed by an allergy specialist based on a person’s allergy triggers and are administered in the allergist’s office. Some individuals may need continued treatment for years while others may get lasting relief more quickly.[5]

Immunotherapy patients should have access to epinephrine, a prescription medicine used to treat a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction.[8]

Allergy medicines — prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays — control symptoms. They can work quickly to relieve bothersome symptoms but don’t address the allergy’s trigger and side effects, which can be a problem for some people. Moreover, many people with environmental allergies do not get complete relief from medications and may be candidates for allergy immunotherapy.[4]

Seek an Early Diagnosis

People who suffer from environmental allergies are advised to make an appointment with a doctor or allergy specialist who can usually determine what allergens trigger symptoms during an office visit. The doctor can perform a skin prick test to identify what substances in the environment trigger an allergic reaction in an individual. During the test, the skin is exposed to a tiny amount of an allergen to determine if signs of an allergic reaction occur.[9] Sometimes blood tests are used to confirm the results.

“There are effective and safe treatment options available for people with allergic rhinitis, but the key is to see an allergy specialist for an evaluation and accurate diagnosis,” Dr. Ledford noted. “An allergist can do simple in-office tests to determine what exactly a person is allergic to and recommend a treatment that will be most effective for that individual and fits with their lifestyle and treatment preferences.”

For more information about allergies and AIT, visit understandingait.com.

This article and understandingait.com are educational resources provided by ALK, Inc.

References


[1] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Allergy Facts and Figures. Available at: https://www.aafa.org/allergy-facts/. Accessed June 27, 2019.

[2] Mayo Clinic. Allergies. Overview. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases- conditions/allergies/symptoms-causes/syc-20351497. Accessed August 8, 2019.

[3] Mayo Clinic. Hay fever. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20373039. Accessed September 6, 2019.

[4] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Rhinitis (Nasal Allergies). Available at: https://www.aafa.org/rhinitis-nasal-allergy-hayfever/. Accessed August 9, 2019.

[5] American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Immunotherapy can provide lasting relief. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/immunotherapy-can-provide-lasting-relief. Accessed September 6, 2019.

[6] American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Allergy shots (Immunotherapy). Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/allergy-shots-(immunotherapy). Accessed September 5, 2019.

[7] U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Allergen Extract Sublingual Tablets. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/allergenics/allergen-extract-sublingual-tablets. Accessed September 6, 2019.

[8] M. Greenhawt et al. Sublingual immunotherapy. A focused allergen immunotherapy practice parameter update. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 118 (2017) 276e282 277.

[9] Mayo Clinic. Allergy skin tests. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/allergy-tests/about/pac-20392895. Accessed June 27, 2019.

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