Allergy sufferers should be seen by an allergist or an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist. The physician or specialist will ask questions related to the patient's medical history and may perform a series of medical examinations and tests. One common test is the "skin test," done by scratching or lightly injecting a small amount of allergen into the surface of the patient's skin. If a large hive develops, it usually means the patient is "sensitive" (allergic) to that allergen. Skin tests help to determine the patient's sensitivity to each allergen, making it easier for the patient and physician to formulate a plan to alleviate the symptoms caused by the allergens.
Counseling in proper environmental control is often included as part of allergy treatment. Avoiding substances that cause allergic reactions may make symptoms more manageable. Preventative measures can reduce the frequency and severity of allergic reactions significantly.
Medications such as antihistamines and decongestants are commonly used to prevent and relieve allergy symptoms. They are widely available over the counter or by prescription. Anti-inflammatory agents such as cromolyn, nedocromil, and corticosteroids are also used to prevent allergy symptoms. These drugs work by helping to reduce inflammation in the airways caused by allergens. Low-dose corticosteroid nasal spray has become very popular and has proven to be extremely effective in managing the rhinitis (nasal inflammation) caused by allergies.
Allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots)
Allergy shots are given to patients with moderate to severe allergies. If the patient's allergy symptoms occur year round, or if the allergy is caused by a substance that is not easily avoidable, allergy shots may be the most effective form of treatment. In immunotherapy, the patient is given a series of shots or vaccinations to help build immunity to the allergen. Patients are given an injection once a week containing only the allergens to which the patient reacts. As the weeks progress, the concentration of the allergen in each shot is gradually increased. Typically, patients will receive injections for 3 to 5 years or more.
Immunotherapy is a relatively safe if somewhat old-fashioned method of treatment. The effectiveness of these shots can be quite variable.