The Specialty of Allergy
An Allergist is a physician who has been specially trained in the diagnosis, management and treatment of allergic diseases and asthma. To become an allergist a physician completes at least nine years of study. This study includes:
- Four years of medical school
- Three years of training in internal medicine or pediatrics, including obtaining certification in internal medicine from the American Board of Internal Medicine, or in pediatrics from the American Board of Pediatrics
- Two – three years of additional training in an Allergy and Immunology Fellowship program.
Additionally, upon completion of Fellowship training, physicians may obtain certification from the American Board of Allergy and Immunology by successfully completing the Board examination. The physicians of Certified Allergy & Asthma Consultants have obtained this certification.
Many physicians can treat allergy symptoms. An allergist is the only physician specially trained to diagnose the specific causes of allergic disease.
An allergy is an abnormal reaction to substances ordinarily harmless to most people. These may be taken into the body by being inhaled through the nose and lungs, by being swallowed, or by contact with the skin. Pollens, molds, house dust mites, animal dander (skin shed by cats, dogs, horses, etc.), and saliva, feathers, chemicals, some foods and medicines and insect venom (bee stings) are some of the common allergens.
These allergens may trigger an allergic reaction in a sensitized individual. Among the chief allergic reactions are:
- Hay Fever
- Perennial Rhinitis (year-round hay fever)
- Urticaria (Hives)
- Swelling (Angioedema)
- Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
- Contact Dermatitis such as poison ivy
- Food Allergy
- Hymenoptera Sensitivity (severe reactions to stinging insects)
It is estimated that 20% of the U. S. population suffers from some form of allergy. The tendency to become allergic is usually genetically inherited. In addition, the development of allergies is dependent upon the quantity of allergen to which an individual is exposed and the duration of the exposure. The severity of allergic symptoms depends upon the type of allergen and the amount of exposure. An individual may have a single allergic problem or several simultaneously. The tendency to develop new allergies throughout a lifetime is common. Allergic symptoms may involve many different parts of the body, either individually or simultaneously, such as the skin, nose and/or lungs.
Common allergic rhinitis symptoms include:
- Sneezing (often occurring in bouts), nasal stuffiness, nasal itching, clear watery nasal discharge
- Itching, watering and redness of the eyes, dark circles under the eyes
- Deep itching within the ear canals
- Mouth breathing, scratchy throat, changes in voice, itchy palate, cough
- Sinus headache, facial pain
Symptoms of food allergy include:
- Mild to moderate allergic symptoms
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting
- Hives, swelling, increased eczema
Severe allergic symptoms include:
- Swallowing and breathing difficulties
- Drop in blood pressure
- Severe allergic symptoms can be life threatening
Stinging insect allergy symptoms
Most people experience a mild reaction to bee stings. These include pain, redness, itching and swelling at the site of the sting. Actual allergic reactions to bee stings are more severe with symptoms that may include:
- Generalized itching, hives
- Swelling of the throat and tongue
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea
- Loss of consciousness
- These allergic symptoms can be life threatening
To diagnose allergies, a physician performs a physical examination, and obtains a history from the patient. This history includes past medical conditions, family health, current symptoms, and inquiries about the home, work and/or school environment. Allergy skin testing may also be performed. In some cases, blood tests may be used. Patients with asthma or other breathing difficulties may also have a pulmonary function test to assess their ability to move air into and out of their lungs. All testing is tailored to the specific needs of the patient.
There are no quick and easy answers to treating allergic diseases. Determining the specific allergen causing the symptoms is of prime importance. A treatment plan most often includes avoidance of the allergen, if possible, as well as medications to help control allergy symptoms. Medications, however, do not decrease the sensitivity to allergens. Immunotherapy or allergy injections, is also a treatment option. Allergy injections decrease the severity of an allergy by decreasing the sensitivity an individual has to a given allergen.