With the slightest change in weather comes a bout of seasonal allergies. These may include eczema, hay fever, or any autoimmune disease. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 5% of children and 4% of adults in the United States suffer from food allergies. Additionally, the statistics received from the World Health Organization claim that around 235 million people over the world suffer from asthma. The question arises, what can you do about these allergies? While some people self-medicate using over-the-counter or OTC drugs, most prefer intervention by a health professional. This is where the role of allergists and immunologists comes in. Before we jump into how an immunologist can help you treat your allergies, it is essential to know what an immunologist is.
Who is an Immunologist?
Immunologists may be commonly referred to as immunology physicians or allergy physicians. Their nine years of special training enable them to diagnose, manage, and treat patients with an immunocompromised system. These immunocompromised patients include those that have allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, anaphylaxis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, eosinophilic esophagitis, urticaria, autoinflammatory syndromes, and primary immunodeficiency disorders. These diseases could be either common or rare, mild or severe. It is the job of the allergists and immunologists to figure that out for you.
How Can an Immunologist Help You?
To help you, the immunologist adopts a personal approach to get enough knowledge to proceed with tests and then eventually, a diagnosis and its treatment. An immunologist’s treatment plan is subjective to every patient.
The first step in the protocol followed by any physician is to perform tests and use the results to conclude your diagnosis. An immunology physician does the same. Since clinical immunologists and allergists work directly with the patient, they are likely to ask you the following questions in the first visit:
- Any ongoing medications that the patient may be on
- Current symptoms that brought the patient to the allergist
- Family medical history, especially any history of allergies
- Your daily routine and evaluation of any toxins that may be involved in your living space or work environment
- Previous medical treatments (if any) and their effects
Tests and Diagnosis
Once the allergy physician has enough information, they suggest a few tests be sure about the underlying diagnosis they have in mind. One or more of the following tests may be prescribed:
- Antibody test – to measure the level of antibodies present in the blood. An antibody level higher than the normal range suggests an immunodeficiency condition and/or allergies.
- Patch test – to identify causative agents of any adverse skin reactions or skin allergies.
- Skin prick test – this is specifically used to determine whether the allergy is immediate and a cause of environmental and food triggers.
- T cell test – T cells are the specialized immune cells of our body. This test measures the number of activated T cells in the blood. An activity of T cells higher than the normal range suggests an underlying condition of the allergy.
Following the test results, the immunologist concludes a diagnosis for the underlying condition and devises a plan for the best suitable treatment. Not every patient suffering from an allergy is treated the same way. The treatments rely on numerous factors, such as the severity of the allergic condition and its symptoms, the type of allergic condition, and its related causes. The following treatments are made use of, depending on your condition:
- antibiotics to prevent recurrent bacterial infections
- antihistamines and over-the-counter decongestants for minor environmental allergies
- topical corticosteroids, such as creams and ointments for allergic reactions on the skin
- a portable epi-pen, which is just an epinephrine injection for severe allergies, such as systemic allergic reactions to a particular food item
- stem cell transplantation or immunoglobin replacement therapy for primary immunoglobin diseases
Another imperative task carried out by immunologists and allergists includes educating their patients about their condition. This will not just help the patient stay away from allergic triggers but also adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle to manage their symptoms in a better way.
Which Diseases Can an Immunologist Treat?
Categorized as either seasonal or year-round, it presents with similar symptoms in both cases. These symptoms may include a few or all among the following:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Itching in the roof of the mouth
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is also known as hay fever. It typically occurs with weather changes, such as in spring, summer, or fall. On the other hand, the allergic rhinitis that lasts throughout the year may be a consequence of exposure to indoor allergens, for example, indoor molds, pets, or dust mites.
This allergic condition is common in people who suffer from multiple other allergies as well, such as dust, smoke, etc. Asthma is mostly a cause of an underlying allergy that can only be diagnosed with the help of an immunologist or an allergist. It presents with the following symptoms:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Treatment of the underlying allergic condition is likely to decrease the frequency and severity of asthma flare-ups, preventing the need for emergency care. By working with your allergy physician, you can turn this life-threatening disease into a manageable condition and go about your day normally.
People with asthma are more prone to developing sinus and ear infections. An immunologist reduces the risks of the development of these conditions by frequently monitoring the patient’s routine and suggesting a healthier diet.
Ranging from moderate to severe, ingestion of even a tiny amount of food that you may be allergic to is likely to flare up your allergy symptoms. These symptoms are very similar to any other allergy:
- Stomach ache
- Abdominal cramping
The symptoms of food allergies are related to the skin or the digestive tract. By running a few tests, an allergy physician can conclude which food is causing the trigger.
Also referred to as eczema, this skin allergy more commonly affects the face, wrists, insides of the elbow and knee, and ankles, causing a dry, red, itchy rash to develop. Although this condition is incurable, it can be treated temporarily by topical or oral medications. An allergist is likely to list down multiple causes of atopic dermatitis and suggests you stay away from any of the following triggers:
- Irritants, such as soaps, detergents, shampoos, cosmetics, etc.
- Cold and dry weather
- Pet fur
- Grass, pollen, and mold
- Excessive heat, such as hot baths or sweating in the direct sun
- Dry skin
- Skin infections
- Emotional stress
Immunologists are also well learned and well equipped to treat other allergic conditions such as urticaria (hives), angioedema (swelling of the deeper layer of skin), and anaphylaxis.
The right care and treatment plan can make all the difference for someone suffering from an allergic condition. Visit an allergist today if you are showing symptoms of allergies, get an accurate diagnosis, and a personalized treatment plan to help you on your journey to recovery.
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