Allergies are the result of the body reacting to substances that are not harmful. These substances include pollen, mold spores, animal dander, and parts of insects. The symptoms start with a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. If the exposure continues then patients develop nasal congestion and postnasal drainage. Many people complain of their “cold” they get every Spring or Fall that lasts for a couple weeks. Some patients may also have asthma or eczema associated with their nasal allergy symptoms.
Allergy patients may also develop reactions to certain foods. This is the classic shellfish allergy where a patients tongue and throat swell when eating shrimp. The reactions can vary from mild nasal congestion to a life-threatenting situation. The best treatment is avoidance of the food and being prepared for any accidental exposures.
Determination of the allergen can often be made from the patient’s history. More subtle exposures may require a diary to determine the offending substance. If confirmation is required, blood or skin testing can be performed.
The most important treatment is avoidance. Staying indoors or closing windows during heavy pollen counts, removing pets, air purifiers, and removing plants can help some situations. Removing allergens once exposure has occured can be accomplished by showering and washing one’s hair. Saline irrigations of the nose can aid removal and lessen exposure time.
A wide variety of medications are available for the treatment of allergies. Each has has advantages and disadvantages in thier use.