What are allergies?
An allergen is something that one’s body recognizes as foreign. For example, a child with a peanut allergy recognizes peanut protein as a foreign substance, which triggers the immune system to defend the body. This is why symptoms such as itchiness, hives, tongue and throat swelling, vomiting or inability to breathe may happen.
While people can outgrow some allergies, such as dairy, egg, wheat and soy, others have a much lower chance of being outgrown, such as shellfish, tree nut or peanut. Allergies are a major inconvenience and can have extreme effects if not managed properly. But is it possible to slowly diminish your allergies or get rid of them completely?
Does immunotherapy work?
Immunotherapy is exposing a person to an allergen to try to alter the immune system, so the person no longer responds to the allergen in an adverse way. By training your body to accept an allergen, it is possible to develop a tolerance to avoid adverse reactions.
What are some examples?
A great example of an allergy is pet dander. Experts say that having pets in your home from an early age reduces your risk of having asthma or other pet dander allergies later in life. Over time, exposure to the bacteria and allergens from a dog will improve your immune system. However, it is important to note that boosting your immune system does not necessarily equal tolerance or getting rid of your allergies. So, if you are contemplating getting a dog, even though you are prone to allergies, talk to your doctor before adopting a pooch!
For food-related allergies, such as peanut, soy, dairy or wheat, parents are encouraged to introduce highly allergenic foods to infants and children with no history of allergies early. If the child has a history of atopic dermatitis (eczema) and/or a family history of food allergy, talk to your child’s doctor before introducing allergenic foods.
Immunotherapy for inhalant allergens, such as pollen, can be done by sublingual (under the tongue) or subcutaneous (injection) exposure to the allergen in a doctor’s office. The exposure starts small and the amount is slowly increased to try to avoid an allergenic response.
Can my allergies change naturally?
It’s important to note that your body’s immune system is constantly changing. Just because you didn’t grow up with an allergy doesn’t mean you can’t develop one later in life. And the reverse is true as well: Just because you were born with an allergy doesn’t mean you will have it forever, whether by simply outgrowing it naturally or by trying immunotherapy. A great example is someone who has horrible seasonal allergies while often playing outside when they are young who eventually develops a tolerance and no longer suffers from outdoor allergies as an adult. Another example is someone who grows up with a dog, but then moves away from home as an adult and chooses not to have pets. If they were to come back to visit, they might find themselves sniffling because they have lost their tolerance to pet dander.
Help is always available!
If allergies are negatively impacting your life, or if you are concerned about your child developing allergies, an allergy doctor can help! Before you start introducing allergens to yourself or your child, contact your doctor to ensure that you are following the right process to avoid any severe adverse reactions.
Need an allergy doctor? Our Ochsner team is here to help. Find an allergy doctor near you.