Friday, May 31, 2013

Allergy shots

Allergy shots (immunotherapy) involve small doses of the allergen being injected into the person.  For example, my nephew was a sickly child.  (When I had him proofread this post, he joked, "sickly but very bright."  Both true.)  His doctor recommended to my sister that they have allergy shots (immunotherapy).  They visited the allergy specialist, allergy testing was done and from those results, the allergy doctor identified what allergens were causing a problem.  A plan was made.  When my nephew went to the allergy doctor, he received small doses of the allergen and built up immunity.  Those allergy shots made an amazing improvement in my nephew’s life and health.  According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, allergy shots work like a vaccine.  Our bodies recognize the foreign substance and build up immunity or tolerance to the allergen.  Allergy shots must be done for at least several months, in many cases, three to five years for best results.  More information can be found at

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Treatments for allergies

Millions of people treat their mild, intermittent allergic reactions (hay fever symptoms) with over-the counter and/or prescription antihistamines.  We hear TV commercials for ‘Claritin clear’ and other antihistamines.  These drugs dry up the stuffy nose and make life more bearable.  The Medline Plus website gives good information about allergies at
For people who suffer serious allergy reactions, an allergy specialist (a doctor who specializes in allergies and immunology, the study of the immune system) has the knowledge and skills to help with diagnosis and treatment.  Avoiding the allergen (after it is identified) may be a part of the treatment plan.  For many patients, allergy shots (immunotherapy) improve quality of life greatly.  More about allergy shots next time.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day.  
Join me as I say thank you to our brave
 men and women who serve (and have served) our great country. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Allergies from annoying to scary

Allergic reactions can vary from mild and annoying to severe life-threatening (anaphylactic) reactions.  Many people deal with mild hay fever allergy symptoms such as sneezing, a stuffy, itchy nose and sore throat from sinus drainage.  They deal with it and go on with their lives.  Some people notice they break out in hives and itch when they start taking a medication their doctor prescribed.  They should stop taking the medicine and call their doctor for a different prescription. These mild and annoying allergy symptoms happen.  Symptoms resulting from allergies can affect many parts of the body such as nose, throat, sinuses, ears, lining of the stomach and skin.  Some people deal with asthma caused by allergies. 
When a severe allergic reaction happens, what might start as a mild reaction becomes life threatening:  hives and itching quickly escalates into dizziness, difficulty breathing or wheezing, swelling of the mouth, tongue and airway which can cause a person to lose consciousness.  The person may experience vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps.  The person’s face may be reddened or the opposite:  it may be a pale color.  The person can go into shock with a low blood pressure and heart failure. The person suffering from an anaphylactic reaction needs immediate medical care.  If the person has an Epi-pen (epinephrine), it’s used to counteract the shock state while the person is transported to the nearly emergency room.  Anaphylaxis can result in death.  The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology shares information about anaphylaxis at

Thursday, May 23, 2013

More about allergies

Springtime (and its pollens) brings allergy issues to people who live in the Midwest.  What substances can cause allergic reactions?  Common allergens (substances which can cause an allergic response) include drugs, dust, food, insect venom, mold, animal dander, latex, and pollens.  
What happens in an allergic reaction?  A protective antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) begins to fight the invader (in the Big Bang episode, peanuts).  According to my Webster’s New World Dictionary, a person who suffers from allergic reactions has more IgE antibodies than non-allergy sufferers.  During this battle between allergen (peanuts) and the IgE, tissue cells (mast cells) are damaged and release chemicals such as histamine which cause itching, swelling, and hives.  Histamine can cause muscle spasms in the throat and lungs (asthma symptoms) and in some cases the person may temporarily lose the ability to talk.   

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's an allergen?

Scientists call substances an allergen when the substance can cause an allergic reaction.   What causes a harmless substance to turn into an allergen?   Good question. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says this:  “It is not yet fully understood why some substances trigger allergies and others do not, nor why some people have allergic reactions while others do not.  A family history of allergies is the single most important factor that puts you at risk of developing allergic disease.”  The person suffering from an allergic reaction goes through life minding his business.  One day for some reason his body reacts with itching and hives.  Finding out what the person has become allergic to can be difficult and frustrating.  If he visits an allergy doctor, a good examination and talking with the doctor may begin to unravel the mystery.  But sometimes it’s difficult to identify what’s causing the allergic reaction.  Often allergy skin testing can help identify the allergen.  More information from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology can be found at

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Allergies and our immune system

Have you seen The Big Bang Theory episode Penny decides to throw Leonard a surprise birthday party?  Howard's duty is to keep Leonard busy while Penny plans Leonard’s party?  Howard decides to fake an allergic reaction and goes to a hospital emergency room claiming he is suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts.  The nurse takes one look at him and tells him to get lost.  He shows no symptoms of an allergic reaction.  So in an effort to keep Leonard busy, Howard wanders off and eats peanuts.  Howard returns to the emergency room desk with his face grossly swollen and reddened and he was having difficulty breathing.  He approaches the nurses’ desk and gets a different response this time as the nurse calls for immediate treatment for him.  His swollen, reddened face and gasping breathing display symptoms of an allergic reaction.   

What is an allergic reaction?  It’s a hypersensitive, overreaction response by the immune system to what should be a harmless substance.  I’m not allergic to peanuts so I can enjoy peanuts any time I want (unless my body decides to react to react in an allergic manner). Poor Howard on Big Bang Theory had a serious allergic response to peanuts.  Some people are so sensitive to peanuts that the presence of peanut dust can cause an allergic response.  More next time about allergies.