Allergy symptoms run the gamut from an occasional runny nose to seemingly constant itchy eyes and sneezing to more severe reactions, and everything in between. For those who suffer from chronic allergies, these bothersome symptoms just keep coming back—or never seem to go away. But what are chronic allergies, and how do you know if you have them? And if you are one of the many patients with chronic allergies, what are the treatment options?
Allergies, which are the result of the body’s immune response, are one of the most common chronic diseases. Allergic reactions occur when, for reasons that are not completely understood, the immune system “attacks” a normally benign substance—the allergen—that it has designated as an invader. The body generates antibodies that detect the “invader” and activate immune cells called mast cells that release chemicals like histamine. These chemicals cause allergy symptoms, including a runny nose, sneezing, skin rash or eczema or an itchy nose, throat or eyes, or in some cases, more serious symptoms like difficulty breathing.
Chronic Allergic Reactions
This allergic reaction can become a chronic issue. Unlike acute allergic reactions, which happen very infrequently and usually only after exposure to a specific trigger, symptoms of chronic allergies are persistent and ongoing. Common in people who cannot easily avoid their allergy triggers (like the ubiquitous pollen or mold spore, for example), chronic allergies often produce symptoms seasonally or year round. Chronic allergies may be triggered by individual allergens, or as is common among allergy sufferers, multiple substances.
Who is at risk of developing chronic allergies? Just as doctors can’t fully explain the reasons most patients develop allergies, experts cannot definitively answer this question. There is a genetic component of allergy predisposition, for instance, but there are other factors, including many that are yet unknown, involved. While some patients may outgrow their allergies or experience reduced symptoms as they age, others develop multiple allergies or a worsening of existing ones with time. No two patients are alike; the progression and severity of allergy symptoms is different for everyone.
How to Treat Chronic Allergies
If you suspect that you suffer from chronic allergies, the allergist’s office is the first stop on your road to recovery and symptom management. Much like a cardiologist who treats chronic heart disease or a podiatrist who addresses chronic foot issues, an allergist is the expert on diagnosing and treating chronic allergies. During your visit, your allergist will ask about your allergy symptoms, review your medical history, perform a physical exam and conduct allergy testing (which may include skin or blood tests) to confirm that you are indeed suffering from allergies rather than another condition, such as nonallergic rhinitis, that has similar symptoms.
The allergist will use these tests to uncover your allergy triggers and create a personalized treatment plan. Depending on your specific condition and individual allergy triggers, treatment may involve prescription medications, including antihistamine pills or nasal sprays, steroid nasal sprays, decongestants, eye drops and certain asthma medications. You may also be a candidate for allergen immunotherapy, or “allergy shots,” which can provide long-term symptom relief by desensitizing your immune system to allergens. Your allergist will also work with you to develop an environmental control plan to help you avoid exposure to allergens when possible.
If it seems like your symptoms are here to stay, visit an allergist to determine whether you are suffering from chronic allergies. Armed with the right diagnosis, your allergist can create an effective treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs and help you get your chronic allergy symptoms under control.