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What are allergies?

Allergy is a response the body has toward a particular substance, inhaled, touched, or ingested. An allergy to any substance may arise at any point in a person’s life. This allergic response can range from mildly uncomfortable symptoms such as mild itching to severe life-threatening reactions such as blockage of the airway. Fortunately, the latter are uncommon. The types of allergies occasionally diagnosed by the ears, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor are usually the inhaled type rather than food or contact (touch) allergies.

What symptoms does allergy give?

Eyes: itching, watering, and a sensation of having something in the eyes. Ears: itching and irritation. Nose: itching, runny nose (watery liquid) leading to sniffling, and blocked nasal breathing. Throat: Itching, sore throat, hoarse voice, cough. In case of a severe allergy, there can be a severe reaction of swelling in the throat which may obstruct breathing.

When do allergies occur?

Allergies can be seasonal (a particular period of weeks to months) or perennial (throughout the year). Examples of seasonal allergies include ragweed (hay fever), trees, and grasses. Examples of perennial allergies are dust (rather dust mites found within the dust), cats, dogs, and other possible household factors such as mold.

Do I need allergy testing?

In some instances, your ears, nose, and throat doctor may perform allergy tests and refer you to an allergist (a doctor specializing in allergy and immunologic problems) to undergo allergy testing. The goal is to identify what you are allergic to and the severity of the allergy. This is helpful to know when trying to avoid the particular substances one is allergic to or to formulate a desensitization treatment (if necessary) against those particular substances.

What is the treatment?

Avoidance of the inciting allergen is the most effective way of preventing the symptoms. Mild seasonal allergies are usually well treated with over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines. Prescription medications such as topical corisone-based sprays are also effective at controlling nasal symptoms. Perennial allergies (all year long) are more bothersome and not as easily treated as exposure is constant. Such allergies may require more aggressive treatment such as desensitization, which consists of administration of shots at regular intervals by an allergist.

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