Tackle allergies with immunotherapy
1/31/2016 10:43 AM
San Marcos and the Hill Country are unique because there are year-round allergies. In the north, annual freezes cause allergens to die while cedar season is just beginning here.
Dr. Michael Blair, an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist with Live Oak Health Partners, has been helping Central Texans combat allergies since 2012.
When prescriptions and over-the-counter medications don’t offer improvements, Dr. Blair orders allergy testing. Then specialized immunotherapy treatments can be prescribed for lasting allergy relief.
“The allergy testing panel is based on where you live,” Blair said. “I test for 44 irritants that are most commonly found in the Hill Country.”
Allergy testing is conducted with small pricks on the back or arm with little needles that contain a tiny amount of the antigens. Swelling will occur on the skin if there is an allergic reaction. The swelled areas are measured to determine how allergic the patient is to that substance.
When it comes to immunotherapy for allergies, there are two options. The first is coming into the doctor’s office each week to get an allergy shot. The second is sublingual drops that the patient puts under their tongue on a daily basis at home. Blair said both methods are equally effective according to research.
“It’s specific to the person, so that’s what makes it safe and scientific,” Blair said. “In that process, your immune system changes from allergic to normal. Then you are ‘desensitized’ to the allergens.”
Although food allergies can be more subtle, Blair says it’s important to find out if you have them through a blood test. The only way to treat food allergies is to avoid the foods causing the problems. Drops or shots will not be helpful.
“If problem foods aren’t avoided, they are counterproductive to therapy for other allergies because it keeps your immune system in an allergic state.”
It’s important to know that, while immunotherapy is proven to change a person’s reaction to certain allergens, it doesn’t happen overnight. Allergy shots or drops will not replace over-the-counter or prescription medications at first.
“You’ll still have to take medicines, but you’ll start to notice that you feel better after six months and certainly by one year,” Blair said. “Most people start taking allergy medicines less and less. Once you can stop taking them without feeling a negative impact, we know it’s time to stop immunotherapy.”
If a person is consistent, Blair said the average immunotherapy treatment is three to five years, but it’s still possible to develop new allergies to other things in the future. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to diagnose allergies at a young age.
“If we can get kids on immunotherapy earlier, we can treat the allergies they have and prevent new ones. Immunotherapy changes that pathway. It can prevent things like asthma and eczema from coming on in the future, which is why most insurance companies are happy to pay for it.”
For more information about allergy testing, call the Live Oak Allergy and Sinus Center at 512.353.6400 or visit liveoakhealthpartners.com.