Allergic disease is a common condition in the United States, with an estimated 50 million Americans suffering from allergies. The conditions treated by an ear, nose and throat doctor (an otolaryngologist) are often exacerbated or caused by allergies. This makes the assessment and treatment of allergy an important part of what we do.
Allergy occurs when the immune system reacts strongly to one or more encountered substances. The substance can be something one breathes, eats or touches. In the case that one breathes in the offending agent, we use the term inhalant allergy.
Inhalant allergies can be either seasonal or perennial. Seasonal allergies occur during the same few months every year. Trees, grasses, and weeds are all potential causes of seasonal allergy. A perennial allergy is present throughout the year. Examples of this include molds, dust mites, and house pets.
Nasal congestion, runny nose, post-nasal drip, itchy nose, itchy eyes, and tearing are some common allergy symptoms. They can all be caused by an allergic inflammation of the nose, called allergic rhinitis. When the sinuses (cavities next to the nasal cavity) become inflamed or infected, it is called sinusitis. Congestion, green or yellow discharge, pressure in the forehead, around the eyes or in the checks, headaches, and fever can all indicate a sinus infection.
The symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis and sinusitis are the more commonly recognized symptoms of allergic disease; however, fluid in the ears or a blocked sensation, cough, or a hoarse voice may also indicate allergic disease.
An otolaryngologist treats both medical and surgical problems affecting the ears, nose, and throat. This, along with a specialized knowledge of head and neck anatomy, aids in the treatment of allergic disease. Control of allergy symptoms is often achieved with medical therapy alone. There are many classes of medications that can be tried: nasal steroids, decongestants, mucolytics, antihistamines, anticholinergics, leukotiene inhibitors, and mast-cell stabilizers. In addition, modulation of the immune system with allergy shots or sublingual therapy (drops placed under the tongue) may be utilized.