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7 Things to Know About Allergies

We all know the telltale signs… a scratchy throat, itchy eyes and a stuffy nose. Allergies. As the seasons change, many find themselves stocking up on nasal sprays and eye drops to combat their symptoms. For those suffering from food allergies, an EpiPen never leaves their side. Philip Fleekop, MD, chief, Allergy and Immunology Division, Abington - Jefferson Health, offers some insight into what to look for, what to avoid and how to be proactive when dealing with allergies.

Q: Let’s start with how you would define allergies?

Dr. Fleekop: Allergies occur when the body produces an allergic antibody against a protein, creating an abnormal immune response.

Q: What are some things that people are allergic to?

Dr. Fleekop: In Southeastern Pennsylvania, there are nine major pollinating trees that supply pollen in early spring. In the summer, northern grasses are a very common source. Ragweed is the most common in the fall. Aside from environmental sources, around two to four percent of the population are allergic to some sort of food, with 80 percent of severe allergies being caused by peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.

Q: What are the most common symptoms of allergies?

Dr. Fleekop: For those suffering from environmental allergies, they may find their eyes itching and watering, their noses running, and their throats beginning to feel scratchy. Symptoms occurring as a result of food allergies are much more consistent, and their onset is much faster. These symptoms include hives, wheezing and swelling.

Q: What types of food can people be allergic to?

Dr. Fleekop: You can be allergic to any food. That being said, there are certainly foods that commonly cause allergies. There are eight foods that the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) mandates companies to label if contained within a product: milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.

Q: How do you go about diagnosing allergies?

Dr. Fleekop: We have to start with obtaining a good history of the patient and any allergic reactions they may have had in the past. From there, we can do either skin testing or blood testing as both are credible. With food allergies, we often use blood testing, as it identifies the severity of the allergy, and if the patient is at risk for anaphylaxis—a serious, life-threatening reaction. For environmental allergies, we use skin testing more often.

Q: Is there anything patients can do to minimize symptoms?

Dr. Fleekop: We recommend a tri-fold method of treatment: avoiding the allergen, prudent and thoughtful use of medication and immunotherapy. Your doctor will take your history, examine you and administer tests to determine how to most effectively treat you.

Q: Are there any risk factors for leaving symptoms untreated?

Dr. Fleekop: With environmental allergies, patients can experience increased fatigue, become more prone to sinus infections and increase their risk of developing asthma. Regarding food allergies, the risk factors can be much more serious, and can include anaphylaxis and even death. New information is constantly becoming available, which is why we stress the importance of keeping educated, avoiding allergens and knowing how to properly use an EpiPen.

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