What is an Allergy?
Allergy is an unnecessary reaction by your immune system to substance called antigens. Examples of antigens or allergens include pollen, dust, food, mold, latex and more. The immune system overreacts to the allergens by producing antibodies, creating a chain of allergic reactions. Symptoms of allergic reactions consist of swelling, rash, or itching in your ears, nose, throat, or skin.
For example, tree pollen is not actually harmful to our body, but our immune system erroneously detects it as a foreign invader attacking our body. Subsequently, the immune system creates unnecessary inflammation and damages in cells, resulting in self-inflicted harm.
In a skin-test, very small amount of allergen is injected into the skin by a pin or a needle to induce a small controlled allergic response. The test is typically performed on the forearms of the patient. Multiple sites are tested with allergens such as dust, pollen, and foods and also with known allergens like histamine or glycerin which are proven to cause allergic reactions in majority of the people. Known allergens are tested to tell the validity of a skin-test; if there is no reaction to known allergens, then it will most likely not react to other allergens as well. The advantage of a skin-test is that it is fast and cost-effective.
Blood Test (RAST)
RAST (Radioallergosorbent Test) is a blood test to detect and measure specific antibodies present in the patient’s blood to the allergens. For instance, a result may show high concentration of the allergen specific antibodies. This indicates that the immune system had overproduced the allergen specific antibodies which signals the patient’s allergy to the allergen. If a patient is too sensitive to the allergen, RAST is done because traditional skin test may result in potentially serious side effects. Disadvantage is that the test takes longer to perform compared to the skin test.
How to Treat Allergy?
The best treatment is to avoid the allergens. For example, if you are allergic to certain foods, the best practice would be to avoid consuming those foods. However, airborne allergens are not as easy to avoid. If you have pollen allergy, you may stay indoors and reduce exposure to pollen, but it is nearly impossible to completely avoid being in contact with it. If you have mold allergy, you may avoid it indoors when those spaces are thoroughly cleaned. However, molds become much more difficult to avoid in wet or damp conditions, and it is nearly impossible to be avoided.
For possible solutions to airborne allergens, nasal saline rinse is recommended to manage the symptoms.
Harmful self-inflicting damage by our own immune system can be controlled temporarily using medication such as nasal sprays or oral antihistamines. In severe cases, steroids may be prescribed. However, these are only temporary treatments, and chronic use of these chemicals is not the best thing for the body as it can cause significant side effects.
The principle of immunotherapy is to desensitize our overly sensitive immune system. To do so, we give whatever the natural substance the patient is allergic to in a very diluted form to inject. Usually on a weekly basis, the concentration of injection is gradually increased so that our hyperactive immune system will become used to these substances injected. Towards the end of the treatment, the immune system stops overreacting, meaning it does not result in allergic reactions.
Immunotherapy has two important merits. First, what is injected are all natural substances rather than chemicals or medications with harmful side effects. Second, it is a fundamental treatment and not a temporary remedy like the aforementioned options we discussed. However, the downside of the allergy shot is the fact that it is a lengthy treatment: you usually start with a weekly shot for up to a year. As such, it is a demanding form of treatment in terms of schedule. After the first year, the frequency of the injections become more sparse into biweekly, bimonthly, monthly and so on. So, the treatment becomes easier as we progress, but it still takes time. When we try to progress the allergy shot schedule excessively, it can cause severe allergic reactions. Therefore, adhering to gradual schedule is very important, and the incremental dosage of the shot must be monitored carefully by the healthcare professional.
Why Park Ave?
Our facility offers diagnostic allergy tests (skin or blood) to find out what you are allergic to and Dr. Jeffrey Ahn will conduct an in-depth consultation with the patient to carefully design the most optimal plan of treatment. Dr. Ahn works with each of his patients to achieve the safest and the best possible results.