Allergies and Immunotherapy

Allergy testing and Immunotherapy Treatment With FPG

Allergies affect millions of people daily.

“When our body gets exposed to a trigger, our immune system recognizes it as dangerous, even though it may not be, and attacks it,” says Dr. Alicia Alvarez, an allergist and immunologist with First Physicians Group. “This causes a chain reaction.”

It is this reaction by the immune system that leads to allergy symptoms, such as inflammation, rashes or nasal congestion, and which can range from mild to severe or even be fatal. So how do you stop your immune system from overreacting? First you have to figure out your triggers.

Testing and Diagnosis

It can often be difficult to determine if a reaction is caused by an allergy, and that’s when a diagnosis by an allergist is important. An allergist can determine an allergic reaction based on some simple testing.

“The gold standard is monitoring what happens when a patient is exposed to different triggers,” says Dr. Alvarez. A skin prick test, or scratch test, exposes the skin to specific allergens in a controlled manner. It can test for all types of allergens including food, insect, pet, drug, latex, mold, dust and pollen. A small bit of the allergen is applied to the skin with a dropper, then a tiny lancet needle is used to prick the skin, allowing the allergen to enter the body. After 15-20 minutes, the allergist checks the results. “If there is a small local reaction,” says Dr. Alvarez, “we can identify that as an allergy for you.”

A skin test can be performed for as many as 50 allergens at once—as long as none of the testing sites overlap or interfere. The test is not painful, as the needles are so small and the pricks so slight. For adults, the test is most commonly performed on the forearm; for children, the back.

Blood testing is another option, though it may not be as comprehensive. But it is available for people who use daily antihistamines or certain heart medications that may interfere with a skin test.

“Once we identify what the allergies are,” says Dr. Alvarez, “we can be more proactive.”

Treatment

Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment option with lots of success. It repeatedly exposes the body’s immune system to the allergen at specified doses until the immune system longer overreacts.

“Over time, we can desensitize the immune system to induce tolerance,” says Dr. Alvarez. “We really change that underlying mechanism, which is stronger than just taking medicine to treat the symptoms.”

Immunotherapy is typically administered through a carefully controlled dose via an allergy shot. The build-up phase begins with the patient receiving weekly shots at the Allergist’s office for a few months.

The maintenance phase is next and allows the patient to receive injections monthly over the course of a few years. “It’s a long process,” says Dr. Alvarez, “but the impact and the benefit will last for several years, even after you stop immunotherapy.”

New approaches to immunotherapy also include allergy drops and under-the-tongue tablets instead of shots.

In addition to seeing an allergist for testing and treatment, you can do a few things at home to reduce your symptoms by limiting your exposure to certain allergens. In addition to simple avoidance of recognized triggers, try these suggestions:

  • Dust and dust mites: Clean your home regularly, reduce humidity and wash your sheets and pillow cases weekly. You can also fluff pillows in the dryer to help kill dust mites.
  • Pollen: Regularly check the pollen count and avoid the outdoors when it is high – and keep windows shut. If you must be outside, change your clothes and wash your hair and face when returning home.
  • Pets: Keep indoor pets out of the bedroom, allowing you a place to sleep with less dander.

But if symptoms persist—especially any affecting your breathing by causing wheezing or shortness of breath—contact a healthcare provider ASAP.

Allergy Evaluation

If you are dealing with allergies or think you might have allergies, click here to request an appointment.

Dr. Alvarez is currently seeing patients at the following locations:

  • FPG Silverstein Institute at Lakewood Ranch
    8433 Enterprise Circle, Ste. 150
    Lakewood Ranch, FL 34202
  • FPG Allergy at Floyd St.
    1901 Floyd St.
    Sarasota, FL 34239
  • FPG Silverstein Institute at Venice MOB
    200 Healthcare Way, Suite 200
    Venice, FL 34275

Call (941) 366-9222 for information and appointments.

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