Top Four Allergy Questions Answered
Allergies come in many forms—pollen, dogs, various fruits, latex, nut, soy and many others. In fact, asthma and allergies impact 1 out of 5 Americans. Often, people confuse cold symptoms with allergy symptoms and vice versa. To help you better understand allergies and how to help your family, we partnered with Ronald Ferdman, MD, physician in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Allergy Q & A with Dr. Ferdman
Question: How do allergy symptoms differ from cold symptoms?
Dr. Ferdman: The signs of allergies mostly depend upon what part of the body is being affected by the allergies. For example skin allergies (e.g. eczema and hives) can present with itchy skin, skin swelling, bumps or dry scaly rashes. Food allergies can cause vomiting, diarrhea and pain. Wheezing and cough can be symptoms of allergies affecting the lungs, such as asthma. You may be thinking of nasal allergies, which affects the upper respiratory tract (nose and eyes—called “allergic rhinoconjunctivitis” or more commonly “hay fever”). The symptoms are very similar to the common cold. These can include itchy nose, sneezing, watery nasal discharge, post-nasal drip and red, itchy, watery eyes.
Q: What are some strategies for managing allergies?
Ferdman: There are three strategies to managing allergies:
- Allergy medications
- Allergy shots (i.e. allergen desensitization)
Q: In terms of allergies, when should someone go see a doctor?
Ferdman: Not everyone with allergies needs to see a doctor. If the symptoms are minor and not bothersome, many people will choose not to treat them at all. Also, there are many good allergy medications that are available over-the-counter and if these are effective for a particular person, they can usually just self-treat. I would recommend that someone see a doctor if:
- The symptoms are in anyway serious or dangerous
- The symptoms are not responding to over-the-counter medications.
- The symptoms are bothersome
Q: Is there anything new in the field of allergy medication?
Ferdman: The newest development is that in the U.S., the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved tablets for oral desensitization. Oral desensitization is in general the same procedure as allergy shots, but instead is performed with a tablet that is dissolved under the tongue (called “sublingual immunotherapy” or SLIT). Not only does this avoid the shots, but it also can be administered by the patient at home (the shots must be done in a physician’s office). This is a method that has been used for years in other countries, but has never been approved for use in the U.S.—until now. So far, this method has had limited usefulness in Southern California since the pollens licensed do not match the pollens we mostly see in our area, but it does offer another option to selected patients.
There is also new developments in food allergies. The new generation of food allergy blood tests are getting better in helping us distinguish between true allergies and false positive test, and which children are at highest risk for sever food allergic reactions. The new tests are only available for a small handful of foods, such as peanuts, eggs and milk, but we hope to have more foods in the future.
Here are CHLA, we are very excited about our plans to open a Food Allergy Center, which will allow us to give comprehensive, state-of-the-art treatment to children with food allergies. Hopefully, this will give some relief to children with life-threatening food allergies.