Everyone seems to know someone who has allergies. After all, allergies are the sixth-leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.
Allergy sufferers will be pleased to know that doctors from the Allergy, Asthma and Food Allergy Centers of St. Louis are now seeing patients weekly at the Bloomsdale Medical Centre.
Dr. Josie Vitale, one of those allergy specialists, described the top allergens for this area.
“There’s quite a few around here,” she said. “I would say the spring is pretty rough with all the trees blooming. Oak trees tend to be pretty potent allergens. That’s true for adults and also kids. We just finished a peak allergy season with ragweed, and mold tends to go up and down through the year.”
Many sufferers operate under the assumption that there’s nothing that can be done and over-the-counter relief is the best they can do. Vitale said don’t be so sure.
“One of the most satisfying aspects of our job is that there are a lot of great medications, and yes, some being over-the-counter,” she said. “Many patients get discouraged when their medications are not helping, but sometimes we need to use those medicines in different ways. Sometimes it’s about having you take them in certain combinations.”
Vitale said discovering what someone is allergic to can be a major challenge.
“If we know what someone is allergic to, we are able to really target the medications to specific times of year,” she said. “Sometimes we can even get by with less medications because we can predict when the symptoms will be worse. Then there are people who don’t appear to be allergic to anything and yet their symptoms look identical. In these cases, we can test for many allergens. So there are a lot of variables that determine what treatment options we put forth.”
Most allergies are of the run-of-the-mill runny nose, watery eyes variety, but some allergies can be more serious.
“If your face is swelling, you’re itching and coughing and you don’t know why, it can be terrifying,” she said. “Cases like hives that last for six weeks and you don’t know why is incredibly unnerving. Often times those turn out not to be allergies and those things can be some of the most frustrating problems for patients. It’s gratifying to be able to help with something like that. We can’t always find a cause but being able to make a patient feel better makes a world of difference.”
Contrary to popular belief, allergies can be more than just managed. They can be eliminated.
“Allergy shots, when done in the right way, can really be transformative,” Vitale said.
“If we know what you’re allergic to and it makes sense with someone’s symptoms, then allergy shots work extremely well because they’re the only thing we have that can change the immune system and make someone not allergic anymore,” she added. “It’s not just a medicine, it literally alters the immune system so that you don’t have those reactions to things. It’s very exciting to see.”
Allergy shots, however, do require a considerable investment of time.
“Allergy shots are typically started on a weekly schedule during the build-up phase,” she explained. “Symptomatic improvement may occur within the first three to six months with full benefit usually seen with the first 12 to 18 months. After a maintenance dose is reached, we’ll determine when to decrease the interval between shots. Most people will be able to stop their injections after about three to five years.”
That’s quite a commitment, all right. But Vitale says given the payoff in better quality of life, you can usually find the time.
“For many people, it’s nice to walk in a house and not have to panic if you see there’s a cat,” she said. “Getting the shots is one of those things you don’t know how you’re going to fit it in, but you just do. We try hard to do a full and thorough workup and be honest with our patients and let them know what will work best for them. We really want to provide the treatment that will give them the best long-term benefits.”
The professionals at Allergy, Asthma and Food Allergy Centers of St. Louis see patients every Tuesday at the Bloomsdale Medical Centre, but hope to expand their visits in the future.
For more information or make an appointment, call 314-849-8700.
(Information in a release from Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital.)