Does It Matter What I'm Allergic to?
Q. If a person has a runny nose, bleary eyes and is sneezing during pollen season, how important is it to see an allergist? Does it matter what you're allergic to, specifically? And are allergy shots — immunotherapy — worth the time and trouble?
A. It's definitely helpful to understand what triggers your symptoms, especially if you're having difficulty controlling them with over-the-counter medications, having complications like sinus infections or asthma, or feeling so run down that it affects your ability to work or go to school. Symptoms can be hard to interpret, but a board-certified allergist has particular training and experience that help find answers.
A patient with allergic sensitivity to pollen, for example, may not have symptoms after a minor exposure. But with heavy exposure or other allergens added in like pet dander or dust mites, the person's allergy threshold may be exceeded and symptoms begin.
That's why some patients have symptoms mainly during pollen season, but they're not just allergic to pollen. They may also have allergies to things like pets and dust mites, and if those other allergens were reduced, the individuals might be able to tolerate more pollen exposure.
Regarding allergy shots, how helpful they could be depends on the severity of symptoms. Allergy shots are most effective for inhaled allergens such as pollen and other environmental allergens, animal dander, and mold spores. The shots help build tolerance to an allergen so that the patient can tolerate exposure. This tolerance continues even after the immunotherapy ends — most patients don't need allergy shots again.
For information on immunotherapy and allergy tests, listen to our "Ask the Allergist" podcast.