What is an Allergy?
Allergies in the San Francisco Bay Area makes treatment harder because the true allergy to dust mites, mold or pollen is superimposed on the non-allergic effects of the pollution, ozone and humidity. Many patients say they feel great when they travel elsewhere, only to have symptoms come roaring back as soon as they return. So, if you’re going to live in the San Francisco Bay Area because of your job, or because this is where your loved ones are, then successfully treating allergies may require you to be a bit more aggressive. That means paying equal attention to avoiding dust mites or mold that you’re allergic to, avoiding non-allergic triggers (e.g., cigarette smoke, perfume, etc), and seeking medical help.
At Silicon Valley Medical Clinic, with over 40 years of experience, we are uniquely qualified to test the cause of your allergies and provide the latest treatments.
Allergies Diagnosis and Treatments
At Silicon Valley Medical Clinic, we separate allergy treatment into three branches: avoidance, medication, and immunotherapy (allergy shots). It often takes a combination of some or all of the three to provide a healthy resolution to your problems. See treatment options for more information.
Most treatment focuses on medications – those that treat symptoms, like Allegra and Zyrtec or those that prevent symptoms, like Flonase and Nasonex. Newer medications like Allermist, a nasal steroid, and Patanase, a nasal antihistamine or Xyzal, a second-generation version of Zyrtec, aren’t much stronger. Even with ideal combinations of these medications and fine tuning of the dosages, inadequate relief is still inadequate relief. Even worse, most medications only treat symptoms, and those symptoms come right back as soon as you stop taking the medicine. See medications for more information.
Of all treatment options, shots are the only ones that actually treat the underlying allergy, working toward a cure. In study after study, allergy shots, when taken for three to five years, continue to provide relief for years after treatment. That’s certainly not true for pills or sprays. Not even for the newest allergy medications.
Asthma Symptoms and Treatments
There’s an old saying in medicine that goes, “All that wheezes isn’t asthma.” It reminds students and physicians that patients can wheeze when they have congestive heart failure with pulmonary edema, foreign body obstruction (like a peanut M&M in the bronchus), or dozens of other possibilities. Conversely, not all asthma presents with wheezing. Symptoms of asthma can include cough, shortness of breath, tight chest, and, of course, wheezing.
Frequently asthma symptoms only occur during certain times of year or in certain situations, such as with exercise or during infections. The “attack” is not the norm; most often symptoms progress slowly over time. Asthma can start at any point in life, not just in childhood. More and more, we are seeing people in their 60’s diagnosed with asthma for the first time. Many of our newly diagnosed asthma patients express fear. They believe they will have to stop participating in their favorite activities, or they will end up gasping for air and puffing on a “rescue inhaler.” Parents often carry images of their kids sitting inside, not able to go to recess or participate in sports.
Asthma treatment has come a long way. In fact, during the 2004 Olympics, many of the athletes had asthma including several medal winners. The goal in asthma treatment is control. For students, control means a team effort involving the parents, the school nurse, and the coach. Medically, control often includes daily anti-inflammatory medications to prevent symptoms from occurring in the first place.
Education for the patient (and their family/school nurse/coach) is key to teaching how to identify and treat symptoms when they first start. With appropriate treatment, the vast majority of asthma patients can continue to enjoy any activity they choose, without limitations.
One of the easiest remedies, avoidance, or prevention, involves removing or decreasing exposure to the cause of the symptoms from your life. For example, a particular food can be avoided, or a pet can be removed from the home or kept away from sleeping areas. If one is allergic to dust mites, a common allergen in this part of the country, we often recommend pillow and/or mattress covers that are impermeable to dust mite antigen penetration.
Some causes of symptoms, such as pollen, molds, and dust mites, cannot be totally eliminated. Exposure can be reduced, however, by environmental control measures prescribed by your allergist. Remember, you don’t need 100% avoidance to improve–just enough to get you feeling better.
Although avoidance is always the primary recommendation, more treatment is usually advised. Medications frequently are used to decrease allergy symptoms and return patients to full health. Recent advances in medications for allergies, asthma and other allergic diseases have been phenomenal. Improvements in drugs have eliminated most of the side effects associated with them just a few years ago. Your specialist at Silicon Valley Medical Clinic will be able to suggest the latest safe, and most effective, medications for treating your allergic illness. Medications are generally divided up into two categories–those to prevent your symptoms, and those to treat your symptoms. It is reasonable to infer that prevention medications must be used regularly to be most effective. Prescription medications can be very expensive; however, we will work with you and your insurance company to find the most effective therapeutic alternatives covered by your plan.
Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots)
Although medications may reduce or prevent symptoms, only a regimen of allergy shots can actually alter or fix a patient’s allergic response. Allergy shots have been used by the medical profession since 1911. This time-tested therapy decreases a patient’s sensitivity by introducing increasingly larger doses of the substances to which the patient is allergic. The treatment is a method for increasing the allergic patient’s natural resistance to the things that are triggering the allergic reactions.
Think of it this way: The allergic response is an overreaction to a harmless substance. When the allergic patient comes across something to which they are sensitive, the allergic cascade begins, often leading to misery. The non-allergic person will breathe in the same thing and have no adverse response. The goal of allergy shots is to gain this tolerance to harmless substances which are mistaken for dangerous invaders.
The immunization procedure begins with injections of small amounts of purified “extracts” of the substances that are causing allergic reactions. For example, the animal dander, dust mites, or pollen. Each of these has proteins which can be used to induce tolerance when properly administered. The immunization injections are approved for this purpose by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, over the years, have been improved considerably.
Allergy shots stimulate the immune system to fight allergies safely, effectively and naturally. Beginning with small doses and increasing gradually on a twice weekly or weekly basis, the therapy continues until a maintenance level is achieved. Then the maintenance dose is injected on a less frequent basis.
Immunity does not occur immediately, but patients can begin to feel better quickly. In many patients, treatment can be discontinued after 3 or 5 years and the immunity is maintained for several additional years. For others, treatment may be needed for longer periods of time.
With the immune system restored to good health, fewer or no medications may be required. Work or school days are no longer missed. The burden of allergies is lifted, and allergies are no longer an issue in daily life.
Candidates for immunotherapy include patients of all ages. Pregnant patients may continue treatment started prior to pregnancy.
Until recently, allergy shots (immunotherapy) had been used as a last resort after medications and environmental control efforts had been unsuccessful. Recent studies suggest that immunotherapy should begin sooner rather than later. As opposed to antihistamines, which treat symptoms, or inhaled steroids, which prevent symptoms, allergy shots are designed to actually eliminate the underlying allergy.
Studies show that receiving allergy shots for one or two items actually prevents the formation of allergies to other allergens. The Practice Parameters also point out that for children with allergies limited to the nose and sinuses, allergy shots reduce the chances that the allergy will progress to asthma, decrease the frequency of sinus and bronchial infections, and enable patients to get better sooner and stay better longer.
Contact us at (408) 945-0300 to make an appointment to diagnose and manage your allergy and asthma and other such conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Allergy and Asthma
What is an Allergy?
An allergy is an abnormal reaction to a normal element. Hundreds of ordinary substances can trigger an allergic reaction. These are referred to as “allergens.” By taking a careful history, performing a complete allergy-directed physical examination and by skin testing, Silicon Valley Medical Clinic can help pinpoint what causes your allergy symptoms.
What About Asthma?
Asthma is not really a “disease” but a syndrome that may be caused by various triggers, including sinus infections, colds, exercise, aspirin, insects and allergens. Symptoms include a tight feeling in the chest or a cough, shortness of breath or wheezing. Allergy plays a significant role in asthma. Indeed it is probably allergies bothering the breathing tubes.
The human body is uniquely equipped to fight off invasions from germs. However, sometimes our bodies think a simple allergen is a germ, which sets off an aggressive (but unnecessary) defense. That’s when you start sneezing, wheezing or developing some other allergic reaction. Although anyone can develop an allergy, the tendency toward allergies and asthma is linked to heredity.
What are Some of the Most Common Causes of Allergies?
Most common allergies are caused by dust mites, the microscopic organisms found in household dust; pollen or mold spores, which typically results in what is commonly called hay fever; and animal dander – cats more often than dogs.
Am I Likely to Have Food Allergies?
The good news is that only about two percent of the population is affected by true food allergies. The bad news is that if you’re one of them, it’s no fun. However, unlike pollen and dust, the foods you’re allergic to are more easily avoided once you know which foods give you trouble.
What Can I Do to Prevent an Allergic Reaction?
The best way to prevent allergies is to avoid whatever you are allergic to. Realistically, this isn’t always possible, especially if you’re allergic to such common things as pollen and dust mites. Silicon Valley Medical Clinic can help devise an avoidance strategy to minimize your exposure to allergens. Certain medications, along with allergy shots, also help prevent allergic reactions.
How Can I Make My Home Less Friendly to Allergens?
It depends on what you’re allergic to. Here are just a few suggestions to reduce most common allergens:
Living Room: If possible, replace carpeting with wood or vinyl floors – or vacuum twice a week with high filtration bags. Keep all plants outside to reduce mold exposure. Avoid tobacco smoke. Wash pets frequently, better yet, keep them outside. Replace thick draperies with light, washable ones, or blinds.
Bedroom: Don’t allow pets in your bedrooms. Use allergen-proof encasements for mattresses and pillows. Wash linens and throw rugs in hot water. Keep clothes and shoes in a closed closet.
Outside: Keep the outside out of your house by keeping your windows closed. Also, do not let pets come in and out because they are likely to pick up pollen on their fur and bring it indoors.
What About Special Filters?
Though occasionally helpful, electrostatic HEPA filters are not effective for many causes of allergies. Make sure what you’re allergic to can actually be filtered by the unit.
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