“Simple” Asthma, Atopic Dermatitis, Rhinitis? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Allergy Symptoms
An allergist discusses everything you need to know about this disease.
Itchy skin, runny nose, or red rashes may seem like superficial signs of an allergic reaction, and if you have them often it may be easy to dismiss or downplay them. On the contrary, however, these symptoms may indicate an underlying health condition, which is why allergies are not to be taken lightly.
For this year’s National Allergy Day celebration, OneLife.ph spoke with Pediatric Allergist Dr. Maria Ruth Santos-Reyes about how you can manage allergic reactions, and which tests you have to take when visiting the doctor.
What is an allergy and what are its common symptoms?
An allergy is when our immune system has an exaggerated reaction to foreign substances. These allergy-inducing substances are called “allergens”.
“The common symptoms of allergy depend on the type of allergic disease that a patient has,” says Dr. Reyes. Reactions may occur in the eyes, sinuses, skin, airways, or other parts of the body.
“For example, someone with allergic rhinitis may commonly present with sneezing, nasal itchiness, and watery nasal discharge (runny nose). Those with atopic dermatitis may present with dry, itchy skin with reddish rash. Urticaria, drug and food allergy may also present as hives and itchiness, while allergic asthma may present as recurrent dry and tight cough with shortness of breath.”
The types of allergic diseases most common among Filipino patients are allergic rhinitis, asthma, and atopic dermatitis. However, Dr. Reyes says that there is an increasing number of cases for urticaria or hives as well.
There is a concept called “atopic march” which describes the progression of allergic diseases in a person.
Dr. Reyes says, “It usually starts in the skin as atopic dermatitis in the early stages of infancy, then as the child grows into toddlerhood and beyond, he or she may develop symptoms of allergic rhinitis. As time goes by, these patients may go on to develop asthma.”
Skin involvement or atopic dermatitis are more present in younger age groups, and as the child gets older, allergic rhinitis and asthma become more prevalent.
When should you go to the doctor?
If your symptoms are becoming more frequent, persistent, and are significantly affecting your quality of life, Dr. Reyes recommends seeking advice from your doctor immediately. If there is difficulty in breathing, chest tightening, or a feeling of being choked, contact an emergency health personnel, especially if over-the-counter medications do not seem to work anymore.
“Severe allergic reaction termed ‘anaphylaxis’ can cause death,” says Dr. Reyes. “In anaphylaxis, the airways may tighten and close. The larynx or voice box may eventually swell. These conditions may lead to severe airway obstruction, making the patient unable to breathe.”
This is why it is so important to pay close attention to your symptoms and not simply dismiss them. At the doctor’s office, you may be asked to take a few tests to better understand your allergic reactions.
“Allergy skin prick tests are usually done by your allergist to determine the specific food or inhalants that trigger your allergies,” Dr. Reyes explains. “It is a clinic procedure where a set of allergen extracts are placed in marked areas of the arm. The allergist will then lightly prick or scratch the area where the allergens are placed. After 15 minutes, we measure the positive reaction, which is a wheal that is formed on the area of the skin where the allergen trigger is placed. This is a definitive way to determine which allergen a patient is sensitized to.”
Here's how you can properly manage allergic reactions
To better understand how you can manage your symptoms, Dr. Reyes emphasizes the importance of proper education, avoidance measures, and allergy medications. However, these medications only serve to prevent allergy symptoms, but not cure them.
“Remember, there is no permanent cure for allergies. Most allergic diseases are lifetime,” says Dr. Reyes. “However, certain food allergies like cow milk allergy and egg allergy can be outgrown. Majority of infants outgrow their cow milk allergy by 1 year of age, and egg allergy can be outgrown by 3 years of age.”
Once you have determined the triggers for your allergic reactions through the allergy skin test, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid that certain trigger.
“For allergies that are not controlled by medications and avoidance measures, allergen immunotherapy or allergy shots can be given,” explains Dr. Reyes. “It is a series of injections, a treatment that is nearest to cure, that is meant to desensitize your body against your specific allergens so that your body will not react [as] severely as before when exposed to the particular trigger.”
Before deciding on a specific approach, however, it is best to seek advice from an allergist to discuss which best fits your lifestyle.
For more information, you may contact Dr. Maria Ruth Santos-Reyes, MD, DPPS, DPSAAI on Facebook.