Allergy FAQs

What are allergies?

Allergies are abnormal responses of the immune system to normally harmless substances. These substance are known as allergens. Some of the most common allergens affecting the ear, nose and throat are pollen, dust, mold and animal dander. When the body is exposed to an allergen, it releases a variety of chemicals, including histamine. Histamine is the precipitating cause of the allergic reaction.

What causes ear, nose and throat (ENT) allergies?

The precise cause of allergies remains unknown, but a hereditary factor is involved. If one parent has allergies, his or her child is much more likely than the general population to have allergies. If both parents suffer from allergies, a child has a greatly increased risk of developing an allergy. The specific allergen affecting the child may be different from the one affecting the parent. Allergies may develop over time once a threshold of exposure has been reached.

What are the symptoms of ENT allergies?

Most allergic reactions involving the ear, nose and throat are relatively mild, but may still interfere with everyday activities. Their symptoms include nasal rhinitis, which causes sneezing, runny nose, congestion and post-nasal drip. Patients with ear, nose and throat allergies may also suffer from headaches, itching, and soreness in the throat or ears. When plant and tree pollens cause these symptoms, the condition is commonly referred to as hay fever. More severe reactions, including anaphylaxis, are rare, but may be life-threatening. Because allergies of the ear, nose and throat are reactions to airborne allergens, sufferers may also experience allergic reactions in the eyes, skin, lungs or gastrointestinal tract.

How are allergies diagnosed?

Diagnosing allergies is done by evaluating symptoms and performing a full physical exam. A skin or blood test may also be done. The skin test is done by placing different potential allergens on the skin, and pricking the skin so the substance can enter the body. If a reaction occurs on the skin, an allergy is diagnosed.

How can allergies be treated?

The most effective way to treat allergies is simply to avoid exposure to allergens but, of course, this is not always possible. For outdoor allergies, remaining indoors as much as possible during certain seasons may relieve symptoms. Because allergens often enter the body through the eyes, wraparound sunglasses may also prove helpful. Other treatments include antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays and eye drops. Allergy shots, a type of immunotherapy, may also be used as treatment. To increase a body's tolerance, an allergen is injected at increasingly larger amounts over time.

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