From baker’s asthma to food sensitivities that flare up hours after you take a bite, allergies can be triggered by the most unsuspected sources.
And make no mistake, it’s no exaggeration when someone says they are an allergy “sufferer.” But those seeking an alternative or holistic treatment for what ails their nose, skin or eyes simply won’t find it, say allergy specialists.
Is it truly an allergy?
Here’s one hint: You won’t suffer an allergic reaction from a mosquito bite. Still, it’s not unusual for parents to bring their children to Dr. Matthew T. Tallar of Children’s Wisconsin seeking a treatment for the child’s ‘mosquito allergy,’ he reveals. Instead, he says, it is just a very strong immune response to the insect’s saliva.
True allergies result when a particular type of antibody is formed and binds to specific proteins, such as those found in common allergens like pollens, animal dander and dust mites, says Dr. Gary C. Steven of the Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center in Greenfield. Those antibodies cannot be formed in small molecules like carbohydrates or, for example, MSG. Often, what people believe is an allergy is actually an intolerance, such as the case with lactose or gluten.
“The problem is that whenever something happens to people that they don’t like, the tendency is to call it an allergy,” Steven says.
The Common Culprits
Allergies generally come from one of three sources: food, medication or the environment.
Most people are familiar with food allergies to peanuts or shellfish. But Tallar said he has treated patients who react to bananas, avocados and garlic. Steven says he has seen patients whose asthma is induced by chemicals in plants that produce spices, “and there is the classic ‘baker’s asthma,’ in which people develop asthmatic reactions to aerosolized wheat proteins.”
Even more rare are those with “food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis.” These rare individuals develop severe reactions after eating certain foods — often wheat or celery — and then exercising. “But they’re not really allergic to the food, because they can eat it at other times and they’re totally fine,” Tallar says.
Environmental allergies are triggered by something one comes into contact with, be it pollen, dust mites, bee stings or even our beloved family pets.
Tallar has witnessed difficult conversations among family members about what to do when one of them suffers a cat or dog allergy. Keeping the pet off beds and vacuuming regularly will help, but when necessary, allergy shots can help reduce symptoms, he says, adding that there’s no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic dog or cat.
But what about allergies triggered at one’s work or school?
It may be amusing to say you’re allergic to work, but for some, it is a not-so-funny reality that can cause pain and stress. Mold, open windows exposing a worker to outside allergens, cleaners and dust mites are just some of the offenders that can make going to the office physically taxing for some.
In extreme cases, Tallar says he has had patients who quit their jobs as a result.
Adds Steven, “After latex gloves started to be used more often and then their use was curtailed due to the increased frequency of latex allergy, I saw a variety of patients such as anesthesiologists who had become latex allergic and had to essentially stop practicing their trade because of severe symptoms in the operating room.”
The Road to Relief
Doctors test for allergies using either a skin or blood test, though tests are not always required. Once the source of the irritant is determined, treatments can vary from antihistamines to allergy shots.
Both Steven and Tallar caution against home remedies, particularly those offered online by people who have never consulted a physician for their allergies. Few have been proven effective, both doctors say.
One natural alternative frequently discussed is the herbal supplement butterbur. Clinical trials have shown mixed results in which it appears effective in some, but cannot be replicated in subsequent trials, Steven explains, adding that butterbur can even pose a danger to those who are highly allergic to the related ragweed.
Acupuncture has been shown to be helpful in managing symptoms, Steven says, but the frequency and number of treatments required are not cost effective compared to more traditional therapies.
Know One From The Other
Not sure if your ailments are asthma or allergy related?
They can go hand-in-hand says Steven — and sometimes an allergy can trigger an asthma attack. But true asthma is an inflammatory disease, so an accurate diagnosis is key in determining the most appropriate care path.
The single most important message Steven has for asthma sufferers is that they must be monitored for lung function and inflammation, care best provided by asthma specialists.
If you are concerned that your respiratory symptoms may be related to the coronavirus pandemic, please contact your local health care provider. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing MKE