Facts About Allergic Diseases

What is allergy?  Allergy is an adverse reaction to certain substances such as foods we eat, inhalants we breath, contactants that land on our skin, medications we ingest or get as injections, or venom’s from certain stinging or biting insects. These same substances are harmless in people who are not allergic to them.

What is asthma?  A chronic obstructive lung disease that results in cough, shortness of breath, wheezing and tightness in the chest because of hyperactive bronchial tubes that carry the air to the lungs. It is usually a reversible disease, although sometimes it results in permanent emphysema.

How frequent is allergy and asthma? Approximately 20% of Americans of all ages are afflicted in some way by those illnesses. Allergy ranks third in frequency in chronic diseases in all ages and in children it ranks first in all chronic diseases of childhood. Approximately 5000 people die each year from asthma despite common medical knowledge and treatment capable of preventing such death.

How many Americans are afflicted by this disease? Approximately 9 million Americans have asthma, 15 million have hay fever, and approximately 5000 individuals die every year from asthma.

Do these diseases represent an economic burden to the nation?  Absolutely right, they represent an enormous public health problem. Approximately 8 million workdays a year are lost due to hay fever and asthma, 130 million school days are missed each year because of hay fever and asthma, and occupational allergic diseases are believed to be a major part of work-related illnesses. An estimated 16% of all hospital inpatients suffer from allergic reactions to medications. You can see clearly that the costs to individuals, families, employers, society and to the whole nation at large is enormous.

Can you put a dollar value to this enormous public health problem?  Most available statistics are more than 7 years old. However, to give you an idea, the total cost of these incurable disease was estimated at 4 billion dollars in 1981. Health care costs in the hospital, nursing home, in the doctor’s office and medications used to control these diseases are estimated to be over 2 billion dollars a year. Indirect costs, such as lost wages, approximates about 1 billion dollars a year for these diseases alone. More than 400 million dollars were allowed in one year to workers disabled by ashtma alone.

Is allergy or asthma contagious?  The answer is no. It cannot be transmitted from one individual to another by contact.

How is the allergy or asthma transmitted then?  Allergy and asthma are serious diseases and certainly are not psychological diseases. They are often inherited and a predisposition to them can remain for life. Asthma and allergies run in certain families. If both parents have the diseases several of their children will have them also. This is less likely to happen if only on grandparent of distant relative has the disease. Allergies are inherited only as a tendency to be allergic but not the particular allergic disease of the parent or the grandparent.

What is the impact on these unfortunate families?  The presence of asthma and allergic diseases in any family can be enormously disruptive to all of its members. The divorce rate among allergic families is much higher than families who do not have these diseases.

Who is affected most by allergy and asthma?  Allergic diseases know no age, race, or geographic boundaries. Allergies do not affect the children only. They may develop at any age, even though it is more common in children. However, many middle-aged and aged Americans suffer from allergies.

Are allergies more common in my home, hometown, or the state where I live?   The answer is NO. Allergies and asthma are universal diseases. They are global in distribution. All countries and all cities suffer from their impact. Moving to a new location may not be an escape from asthma and allergies.

What are the allergic diseases?  Allergies can affect any part of the body. Most common is the respiratory tract, resulting in hay fever, sinusitis, headaches or inflamed eyes, middle ear disease, and/or asthma. The skin the second most common site for allergies. Hives, eczema, contact dermatitis, poison ivy and giant hives can affect the skin singly or combined. Every year many individuals are stung by Hymenoptera, a group of insects which includes bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants. Reactions to the stings can be only a simple discomfort. However, several cases of shock and even death were reported.

Name some common allergy producing substances.

Air-Borne substances include:  pollens of trees, grasses or weeds; mold spores; house dust; house dust mites; animal danders; perfumes; and cosmetics.

Common Foods are nuts, chocolate, fish and shellfish, eggs, milk, wheat and tomatoes.

Common Drugs are aspirin, penicillin, sulfur, codeine and dental anesthetics.

Contact with the skin of various metals (gold and silver), plants (poison ivy or sumac), or other various chemicals or products produce allergic skin diseases.

What can I do about my allergy or asthma?  First of all, you should understand that early diagnosis is very important and will prevent many possible complications (many hay fever sufferers turn into chronic asthma). In other instances, early diagnosis and treatment can save a life (allergy to stinging insects, drugs or certain foods can be fatal if not diagnosed early and a proper treatment program started).

What can I do about an allergy or asthma?  There is no simple cure for any allergy, nor single treatment for every case. The best advice is to seek medical help. To find out if your illness is an allergy and to identify what you are allergic to, a thorough history an inquiry about your living habits, your occupation, your diet, and your environment is necessary. After a complete physical examination and with the assistance of some laboratory tests including a skin or blood test for allergies,  light can be shed on these mysterious diseases. If foods are suspected as the cause of the problem, you may be asked to go on an elimination diet for a given time.

What is allergy skin testing?  Skin tests are sensitive, simple procedures by allergists in their offices. It can be as simple as a scratch test on the back, usually done using a fine needle (by the way, almost painless), or by injections such extract into the skin (feels like a mosquito bite). There are diagnostic extracts for all the common allergens and special extracts can be prepared for specific situations such as your own dog or your own cat. If you are allergic to a substance being tested, you will develop a welt like a mosquito bite within minutes at the site where the drop is located. More recently, a blood test (RAST) is available. Although it is more expensive and less sensitive than the skin test, it has a specific use in certain cases. The final diagnosis of allergies and asthma is made after considering all the evidence at our disposal. To determine exactly what causes your allergy may require a long, careful search. This is real detective work, requiring patience and skill and your close cooperation.

Can you tell me something about the allergy shots? What are they?  Desensitization (hyposensitization) or immunotherapy as it is called in recent years describes a process of injecting allergenic extracts in the body, which, if inhaled, produce disease. However, they produce resistance in the body and increase the tolerance to the specific allergen injected if they are given by a different route, namely through a needle. This mode of treatment is usually successful, especially in respiratory allergies where pollen, mold or dust is the cause. A recent cat extract is also extremely effective. Relief is occasionally dramatic, but even when it is incomplete, the severity of symptoms is reduced. Treatment must, of necessity, vary according to the individual patient, his specific sensitivities, the geographic area in which he lives and the length of the season of exposure. Basically, we begin the injections with small amounts of dilute extract. The dose is gradually increased and the time interval between injections when possible is also increased.

What do I do next?  Call us at 239-261-5599 for an appointment. We advise that you continue reading through the handouts that come out regularly from our office on different allergic diseases. We hope that you will find these both interesting and informative.