Allergist Dispels Myths to Fight Allergy Misery
Millions of Americans sneeze and wheeze March through June when they use misinformation to manage their spring allergies. To separate fact from fiction and help allergy sufferers feel good all season long, allergist Dr.Kusum Sharma of AKANE Institute of Allergy, Asthma & Sleep Medicine, a member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) and an expert at diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma, offers the following myth-busting advice:
Myth: Over-the-counter (OTC or nonprescription) medicines are just as effective as prescription medicines.
Fact: “OTC antihistamines can help control some allergy symptoms like sneezing and runny nose, but they have little effect on relieving a stuffy nose or the inflammation that often occurs with allergies,” said allergist Dr. Kusum Sharma. They also can make you drowsy. OTC decongestant nasal sprays seem to provide immediate relief but you may need to use more and more to get the relief. They can also cause rebound congestion (rhinitis medicamentosa). If your OTC medicine is not helping your stuffy nose or is causing side effects, your best bet is to see an allergist, who can not only prescribe more effective anti-inflammatory medications but also will find the source of your suffering rather than just treating the symptoms.
Myth: Eating local honey will combat spring allergies.
Fact: Local honey is made from the pollen of local flowers, so it might seem logical that eating it would increase your allergy tolerance. However, the pollens that cause spring allergies are produced by trees, grasses and weeds, not the showy flowers that bees buzz around. In fact, eating honey can be risky for some people, who could have an allergic reaction to the honey itself.
Myth: Pollen allergy won’t lead to food allergy.
Fact: Actually, about one third of people with pollen allergies also may react to certain foods. The reaction – called oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food allergy – is usually mild, including an itchy, tingling mouth, throat or lips. It has to do with similar proteins in the pollens and food. If tree pollen is your allergen, you might have a reaction to fruit such as apples, cherries or plums, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts. If you are allergic to ragweed, you might be sensitive to melons, bananas, chamomile tea or Echinacea. Peeling or cooking the fruits may eliminate some of the allergens. If you experience this, consider seeing an allergist to determine the source of your allergies and help you find relief.
Myth: A blood test is the best test to diagnose allergies.
Fact: Skin tests are more sensitive than blood tests. In skin testing, the skin on the inside of the forearms or the back is pricked with a tiny bit of an allergen. If you’re allergic, the site will become red and bumpy. Skin testing is very safe when performed by an allergist, even in infants and young children. But no single test alone provides the entire picture. It’s important to see an allergist, who is trained in diagnosing and treating allergies.
Myth: Allergy shots require too much time and are more expensive than taking medicine to relieve symptoms.
Fact: Immunotherapy (allergy shots) may actually save you money and improve your quality of life. In fact, a recent study showed that immunotherapy reduced total health care costs in children with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) by one-third, and prescription costs by 16 percent. It also has been shown to reduce progression to asthma in children with allergies. The shots are similar to a vaccine, exposing you to the allergen (a tiny bit at a time) to help your body build tolerance. As your tolerance increases, your allergy symptoms will be significantly lessened and may even go away, saving sick days and money spent at the drugstore.
Dr Kusum Sharma brings to San Diego county a new innovative approach to allergy shots called Rapid Desensitization/ RUSH immunotherapy. By this approach, selected patients are able to receive 3-4 months worth of weekly allergy shots in a single day in her office thereby avoiding multiple office visits and time away from school and work.