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When to See a Healthcare Specialist for Allergy Treatment

Man with allergies

There’s a wide spectrum of allergy conditions, from mild seasonal allergies to more severe symptoms that persist year round. It makes sense, then, that there is also a spectrum of allergy treatment options.

Some people are able to manage mild symptoms with occasional use of over-the-counter allergy medications, including oral antihistamines like Claritin®, Allegra®, and Zyrtec®; decongestants like Afrin® and Sudafed®; and nasal corticosteroids like Flonase® and Nasacort®. But if allergies impact your focus at work or school, or prevent you from living a more active life, you may consider consulting with a healthcare professional about treatment options.

In addition to your primary care provider, there are specialists with extensive training in allergy treatment such as allergists and immunologists. They can help you better understand the cause of your symptoms so that you can determine a more effective allergy treatment plan. Below, we explain more about the various types of allergies, how an allergist or immunologist can help, and when it may be time to see one.

What are allergies?

There are many types of allergies, but all are produced by a reaction in your immune system. In people with allergies, the immune system interprets substances like dust, pollen, and pet dander as harmful. The immune system then kicks into defense mode, producing antibodies to attack the allergen, which in turn causes symptoms such as wheezing, sneezing, and itching in the eyes, nose, ears, or mouth.

There is often a hereditary component to allergies, so you may be more likely to develop allergies if you have a family history of the condition. While many allergies begin during childhood, they may also occur for the first time in adulthood. Some childhood allergies improve with time, but they can also reappear later in life after years without symptoms.

Here are some of the most common allergy conditions. 

Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is a broad term for any sinus-related allergic reaction. Symptoms generally include watery eyes; itchy eyes, nose, ears, and mouth; runny or stuffy nose; sneezing; puffy eyes; and post-nasal drip. This reaction can be triggered by a range of allergens and may occur year round or seasonally.

Pollen and outdoor mold typically trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis — sometimes referred to as hay fever — while dust mites, pet dander, and indoor molds can trigger these symptoms at any time of year in certain individuals.

Allergy-induced asthma

Asthma is a lung condition in which the airways narrow and become inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are some of the most common symptoms. As with allergies, there’s a wide spectrum of severity. For some individuals, asthma symptoms are an occasional annoyance, but for others they can be life-threatening.

Allergy-triggered asthma, which is relatively common in children, occurs when allergens affect the lungs and lead to asthma symptoms. Allergy-triggered asthma can result from allergens linked to both seasonal and year round allergies.

If you or your child suffer from allergy-induced asthma, allergy medications will likely be a part of your asthma treatment plan, but they are not a substitute for asthma medication. In addition to consulting an allergist, speak with your primary care provider as soon as asthma symptoms appear so that you can find the best treatment plan.

Skin allergy conditions

Many common skin conditions, including eczema and hives, are an allergic reaction caused by various triggers, including pet dander and certain types of medication or food. Part of an allergist’s role is to help you determine if a skin condition is allergy-related. A dermatologist can also help you understand the underlying cause of your skin condition and recommend treatment options.

Anaphylaxis

For some individuals with severe allergies, exposure to an allergen can become life-threatening. This is called anaphylaxis, an extreme allergic reaction to food, medication, or venom. Bee stings or foods like peanuts and tree nuts are among the most common triggers of anaphylaxis.

If you have been diagnosed with anaphylaxis, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe epinephrine to use in the event of an emergency. This medication prevents anaphylactic shock from becoming life-threatening.

When should I see an allergist or immunologist?

Allergy and immunology is an area of medicine focused on the treatment of conditions related to the immune system, including allergies. Allergists and immunologists are specialists in diagnosing allergy conditions and asthma. (In the United States, the two roles are essentially interchangeable.) They can help identify the specific triggers of your allergy symptoms and prescribe the most effective medication for your allergies. To be certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology, these specialists must complete two or three years of study in allergy and immunology in addition to a three-year residency after earning their medical degree.

If your allergy symptoms persist after trying over-the-counter medications and consulting with your primary care provider, it may be time to see an allergist or immunologist for more lasting relief. And if you have used over-the-counter medications for longer than several weeks to treat allergy symptoms, you may also benefit from consulting a specialist, as these medications aren’t meant for long-term use and become less effective with time

Understanding the source of your allergy symptoms is key to effective treatment, and allergists and immunologists are able to help you identify your trigger(s). They may recommend a skin test in which they will lightly prick or scratch your finger with a small amount of a suspected allergen, like pollen. Then, they can watch how your body absorbs that substance to determine if you have an allergic reaction. They may also use a blood test to determine what’s triggering your allergies.

Avoiding allergens as much as possible plays a big role in controlling symptoms. However, if you are unable to avoid the substance that triggers your allergies, a specialist can recommend treatment options, including prescription medications and immunotherapy.

What to know about immunotherapy

It may be possible to train your body to become less allergic to a specific trigger through a process known as immunotherapy. In this preventative treatment, a doctor will gradually give you larger doses of the substance that triggers your allergies. As you become exposed to larger amounts of the allergen, your immune system will become less sensitive to it. Ideally, this will help you experience fewer allergy symptoms when you encounter the allergen in the future.

There are several types of immunotherapy, including allergy shots and sublingual tablets, which are placed under the tongue. This treatment approach is most effective if a doctor has isolated one or more specific allergens as the source of your symptoms, which is why testing is so important.

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Alto makes it as simple as possible to follow the treatment your doctor recommends. Our team of patient care pharmacists will work with your doctor to get you the allergy or asthma medications you're prescribed at the best price, and we’re happy to answer your questions about medication side effects or any other health concern. Reach out any time via text or phone at 1-800-874-5881, or in-app messaging.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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