Allergies: Types, triggers and treatments

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about one in five Americans has at least one allerg,. Allergies are the fifth-leading cause of disease in the United States and the third-most common chronic disease among children and adolescents.While most allergies result in only mild to moderate symptoms, they can have serious health consequences. Severe allergic reactions to food, prescription drugs, insect bites, latex, and other triggers result in hundreds of deaths in the U.S. each year.Hay Fever and Grass Pollen AllergiesDuring the early spring and summer in San Diego, tree and grass pollen allergies are common. Sensitive patients develop a common allergy called hay fever, characterized by itchy, watery eyes, itchy nose, and congestion. However, the majority of people who suffer from allergies experience their symptoms year-round, due to dust mites, mold, and furry animals in addition to seasonal flare-ups.

Food Allergies

About two-thirds of people self-report some sort of food allergy, according to a recent report by the National Institute of Health. However, many people who feel sick after eating blame their condition on a food allergy, when it fact it may just be indigestion, food poisoning, or another illness. Children are more likely than adults to have food allergies, as are people who have at least one other type of allergy or a family history of allergies.

Risk Factors

Children with a family history of allergies are at elevated risk of developing them. Also, patients with one allergic disease are more likely to develop another. San Diego tends to have relatively long-lasting pollen seasons, but they are not as intense as those in other areas of the country. Along the coast, there are fewer problems with pollen, but the damper conditions allow for more mite and mold problems. There is more pollen but less mite and mold in drier inland areas, while areas like Tierrasanta get a bit of both types of allergy triggers.

Allergies vs. Colds

Allergies have similar symptoms as the common cold, leading many patients to confuse the two. However, there is no fever with allergies, and if there is itching of the eyes or nose, it cannot be a cold – histamine is released with allergies, not colds. Also, if there are significant eye symptoms, it’s more likely an allergy than a cold.

Diagnosis & Treatments

Diagnosing the source of an allergy can be made from a simple skin or blood test done in a doctor’s office. The primary method of treating allergies is avoiding whatever is causing the allergic reaction. For hay fever or pollen allergies, an air purifying unit or air conditioning filter can remove up to 99 percent of airborne pollen and relieve symptoms.

If avoiding the allergy trigger is not possible, over-the-counter antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec, or Allegra may help control most allergy symptoms. A decongestant such as Sudafed can be effective at reducing congestion. Daily use of prescription topical cortisone (steroid) nasal sprays is safe and highly effective for adults and children.

“Health Watch” is brought to you by the physicians and staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. For more information or for physician referral, call 1-800-SCRIPPS or visit www.scripps.org.

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