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What is Involved in Allergy Treatment?

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology ranks allergy as the fifth leading chronic disease among adults in the U.S., and third among children under 18 years of age. Collectively, allergic disease affects more than half of the total U.S. population. For reasons still largely unknown, the incidence of allergy appears to be increasing, especially among children. However, many researchers and clinicians suspect this rise may be due to chronic exposure to environmental toxins and, possibly, the overuse of antibacterial soaps. Whatever the case, it’s important to seek allergy treatment as soon as diagnosis is made.

While a person can experience an allergic reaction to nearly any material, the mechanism and biological consequence is generally the same: the release of histamine from mast cells triggered by the excessive production of leukotrienes and prostaglandins, followed by inflammation. Moreover, an allergic response can involve the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, or the respiratory system. Specific allergy treatment depends on the type of allergen involved and the severity of the allergic reaction.

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In the case of a food-related allergy, which is very common in children, the most practical and effective allergy treatment is avoidance. Again, while any food can trigger an allergic response, there are only eight primary allergenic foods, which are casein (milk), albumin (eggs), fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. However, it’s not enough to simply stay away from these foods since many byproducts of these substances can be found in other food products. This means that diligent label reading is a must. Fortunately, the US Food and Drug Administration now requires manufacturers to list any of these allergenic foods on product labels, including their by-products.

Another allergy treatment is immunotherapy. Since this treatment involves allergy shots based on the principles of vaccination, it is sometimes referred to as desensitization therapy. Allergy shots are composed of a variety of potential allergens specific to the patient, such as animal dander, mold and pollen spores, dust mites, etc. Initially, injections are given one to two times per week until the maintenance dose is achieved, which is basically the limit of tolerance to the allergens introduced. This stage of allergy treatment can take weeks, months, or even a year. After that time, however, the injections may be decreased to once or twice a month.

Medications that act as leukotriene and histamine antagonists or modifiers, including cromolyn sodium and other antihistamines, may be given in some cases. Additional drugs may accompany this allergy treatment strategy, such as corticosteroids and decongestants. These medications are engineered to control inflammation and congestion and are delivered via nasal sprays, eye drops, or capsules. However, when asthma is part of the allergy equation, some of these agents may be taken through an inhaler. In fact, inhalers containing corticosteroids and bronchodilators are often prescribed for allergy-related asthma.

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