An allergy is a body's reaction to something that normally does not provoke a response in a nonallergic person. Some people are born with a genetic makeup that causes their body to respond to certain "allergens" when exposed on repetitive occasions.
Allergens can include:
- Dust mites
- Mold spores
- Animal dander
- Insect stings
Some people have many allergies. Some have none. Allergy sensitivity may be linked to your genes and your environment. You have a higher risk of developing food allergies if your family members have them.
Allergic reactions may occur almost anywhere in the body but commonly affect the:
- Respiratory system - Causing sneezing, runny nose, sinus congestion, coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath
- Eyes - Causing tearing, itching or swollen eyelids
- Skin - Causing itching or hives
- Gastrointestinal tract - Causing abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting
If the whole body is involved in an abrupt reaction, shock and life-threatening anaphylaxis may occur. Fortunately, anaphylaxis is uncommon.
The part of the body affected by allergic reaction depends, in part, on the way you are exposed to an allergen. Respiratory symptoms occur when an allergen is inhaled. Gastrointestinal symptoms occur after ingestion. Itchy skin can occur after touching the allergen, such as poison ivy.
Common food allergens include:
- Fish and shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab)
- Tree nuts
- Milk (mostly in children)
Symptoms may start quickly, within a few minutes. In less severe allergies, symptoms may start several hours after exposure.
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) need to be treated with a medicine called epinephrine. It can be life-saving when given right away. If you use epinephrine, call 911 and go straight to the hospital.
The best way to reduce symptoms is to avoid what causes your allergies. This is especially important for food and drug allergies.
There are several types of medicines to prevent and treat allergies. Which medicine your doctor recommends depends on the type and severity of your symptoms, your age, and overall health.
Illnesses that are caused by allergies (such as asthma, hay fever, and eczema) may need other treatments.
Medicines that can be used to treat allergies include:
Antihistamines are available over-the-counter and by prescription. They are available in many forms, including:
- Capsules and pills
- Eye drops
- Nasal spray
These are anti-inflammatory medicines. They are available in many forms, including:
- Creams and ointment for the skin
- Eye drops
- Nasal spray
- Lung inhaler
- Persons with severe allergic symptoms may be prescribed corticosteroid pills or injections for short periods.
Decongestants help relieve a stuffy nose. Do not use decongestant nasal spray for more than several days because they can cause a rebound effect and make the congestion worse. Decongestants in pill form do not cause this problem. People with high blood pressure, heart problems, or prostate enlargement should use decongestants with caution.
Allergy shots (immunotherapy) are sometimes recommended if you cannot avoid the allergen and your symptoms are hard to control. Allergy shots keep your body from over-reacting to the allergen. You will get regular injections of the allergen. Each dose is slightly larger than the last dose until a maximum dose is reached. These shots do not work for everybody and you will have to visit the doctor often.
Multi-Specialty Approach to Allergy Care
At our Allergy and Immunology clinics, we provide more options, resources and services for diagnosis and treatment than are readily available at many other medical facilities. Patients see allergist/immunologists who include nationally recognized experts in the field, and are certified by the American Board of Allergy & Immunology, a conjoint board of the American Board of Internal Medicine and American Board of Pediatrics. Our faculty physicians also train subspecialty physicians and engage in research. Our services feature:
- A truly multi-disciplinary approach that involves extensive patient education and close communication with referring physicians.
- Cutting edge diagnostics and treatment modalities: Our practice philosophy reflects the most current and valid research in the field.
- Greater ability than most offices and clinics to perform challenges to food and drugs to help diagnose food and drug allergies, and to perform drug desensitization when needed.
- Evaluation of patients with frequent or unusual infections, as the largest center for the diagnosis and treatment of primary immunodeficiency in the Western North Carolina and Western Virginia region.
- Use of state of the art recommendations for providing specific allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots), and a focus on treating each individual for their own unique allergic profile.