May 6, 2015
Why Allergies are Nothing to Sneeze at
Watery eyes, itchy throat, sneezing, wheezing and a nose that won’t stop running.
If you’re among the 20 percent of Americans who suffer from some sort of allergy, you know how debilitating a reaction to pollen, dust, animal dander or food can be.
When most people think of allergies, they imagine a slew of menacing invaders wreaking havoc on the body.
In reality, allergies are your immune system’s abnormal response to harmless substances in the environment that don’t cause a reaction in most other people.
An allergic reaction occurs when a person is exposed to an allergen, and different allergens are responsible for different allergic reactions. The most common allergens include:
- Insect stings.
- Animal dander.
Allergies also can trigger symptoms of asthma in some individuals.
“The more common allergens here in Hawaii are dust mites, cockroach particles and molds,” says Dr. Jeffrey Kam, an allergist and chief of the Allergy and Immunology Department at Straub Medical Center.
“People allergic to pollens do worse here because of the lack of season,” Kam adds. “People with allergies are also more sensitive to non-allergic triggers such as VOG, humidity, temperature extremes and strong odors.”
Just as an allergy reaction’s cause can vary from person to person, so can its symptoms and severity.
For some, symptoms can be barely noticeable – you may just feel a little “off” one day and completely fine the next. For others, allergy symptoms can resemble the cold or flu and progress to the point where you cannot carry out day-to-day tasks.
“Allergies can affect school performance in children and are a cause of poor work performance and work absenteeism in adults,” Kam says.
In the most serious cases, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can occur.
People who have a history of anaphylaxis should always carry an EpiPen or AuVi-Q injector.
If you suspect you may have an allergy, an allergy specialist can help identify your triggers.
An allergist may use one of the following methods:
- Skin testing – The most widely used and most accurate in finding the cause of allergies. This test involves exposing the skin to small amounts of various allergen extracts and observing the skin’s reaction over 20 minutes.
- Specific IgE tests – These are blood tests that detect antibodies to specific antigens, or allergy triggers.
- Oral challenge – Individuals ingest foods or medications to confirm or identify suspected allergies.
“Allergies can be debilitating and greatly affect one’s quality of life. It is important to try to identify specific triggers,” Kam states. “Depending on the allergy, environmental control measures and avoidance can be helpful. There are many medications available for the treatment of allergies. People do not have to just live with the symptoms.”