More than 100 million people in the United States suffer from allergies, which are caused by the body’s immune system overreacting to foreign substances. Allergies affect people of all ages and are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the country.
The human body normally defends itself against harmful things such as viruses or bacteria but sometimes mistakenly reacts to relatively harmless substances. These substances, called allergens, can be inhaled (breathed in), swallowed, or touch the skin and trigger a reaction. Common allergic reactions, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever), are linked to an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) produced by the immune system.
The most common allergens are:
- Household dust, dust mites and their waste
- Animal dander, urine, or oil from skin
- Chemicals used for manufacturing
- Certain foods
- Bug stings
- Cockroaches and their waste
Although common, allergies often go undiagnosed or are not properly treated, which increases the risk of developing a serious chronic condition. In addition, some allergic reactions are potentially life threatening.
The team of expert allergists and immunologists at Cooper University Health Care diagnose and treat patients of all ages who suffer from allergies or allergic reactions to lessen or eliminate their symptoms and make them more comfortable. For more information about our pediatric allergy and immunology services, click here.
Risk Factors for Allergies
Allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or race. While allergies are more common in children, a first-time allergic reaction can develop at any age or come back after many years.
Some allergies appear to run in families, although what causes this isn’t well understood. In some people, hormones, stress, smoke, perfume, or other environmental irritants may also play a role in allergies, with symptoms increasing slowly over time.
Symptoms of Allergies
An allergic reaction can happen anywhere in the body where immune system cells are found to fight off germs that are in breathed in, swallowed, or come in contact with the skin. Allergic reactions can cause:
- Stuffy nose, sneezing, itching, or runny nose, and itching in ears or roof of mouth
- Red, itchy, watery eyes
- Red, itchy, dry skin
- Hives or itchy welts
- Itchy rash
- Asthma symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing
Anaphylactic shock (anaphylaxis) may occur in extreme cases. Anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening reaction to certain allergens, including a drug, food, bug venom or a chemical. An anaphylactic reaction may cause body tissues to swell and lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure. Other symptoms may include:
- Itching and hives over most of the body
- Swelling of the throat and tongue
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea
- Loss of consciousness
Some people who are aware of their serious allergic reactions carry epinephrine, or an EpiPen, to use in an emergency to counteract many of the complications of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine improves circulation in blood vessels, opens up the airways in the lungs, and increases the rate and force of the heartbeat.
Allergy-Related Conditions We Treat
Cooper’s experts evaluate, diagnose and treat the following allergy-related conditions:
- Allergic conjunctivitis (eye itching and redness)
- Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
- Angioedema (swelling)
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
- Contact dermatitis (skin reactions to irritants)
- Drug allergy (contact us to confirm the drug test needed is available)
- Eosinophilic esophagitis
- Food allergy
- Insect sting allergy
- Latex allergy
- Urticaria (hives)
- Mast cell disorders
Our specialists will work closely with you to understand your symptoms and, if needed, will perform allergy testing. This testing may include:
- Skin testing with allergens
- Blood tests
- Patch testing
- Pulmonary function testing
- Drug allergy testing
- Food ingestion challenge
Cooper’s specialists will work with you to develop a treatment approach that meets your needs and preferences. Allergy treatments are tailored to meet each patient’s unique circumstances and depend upon a patient’s age, overall health, tolerance for certain medications, and severity of symptoms. Treatment may include:
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy): Shots may be appropriate for people with allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis (eye reaction), allergy-triggered asthma, or those with a stinging bug allergy.
- Medications: Since it can take 6-18 months for allergy shots to become effective, you may need to take allergy medications in the meantime to relieve your symptoms. These medicines can include:
- Steroid nasal sprays
- Asthma medication (controlling asthma may help control allergic rhinitis is some patients)
Prevention is also an important part of controlling your allergies. To avoid triggering your allergies:
- Stay indoors when the pollen count is high and on windy days.
- Dust-proof your home, particularly the bedroom.
- When possible, get rid of carpeting, Venetian blinds, down-filled blankets or pillows, closets filled with clothes.
- Wash bedding, curtains, and clothing often in hot water to get rid of dust mites.
- Keep bedding in dust covers when possible.
- Use air conditioning instead of opening windows.
- Use a dehumidifier in damp parts of the home and cleaning the dehumidifier often.
- Wear a face mask when working in the yard.
- Refrain from vacationing by the beach during the heaviest part of pollen season.
Expertise in Immunodeficiency and Immune Dysregulation Disorders
Immune dysregulation occurs when our body cannot mount a response to fight infections (immunodeficiency) or properly control immune response either against our own cells or foreign cells (autoimmunity or autoinflammatory disorders). Cooper’s allergists and immunologists have extensive experience treating primary and secondary immunodeficiency disorders as well as many autoinflammatory disorders.
Some immunodeficiency and immune dysregulation disorders are inheritable (genetic) and present from birth while others may develop at any age. The most common signs of immunodeficiency are frequent, severe acute and/or chronic infections, but can manifest in many other ways, including diarrhea, enlarged lymph nodes, unexplained fevers, and early malignancy.
It is important to diagnose an immunodeficiency and immune dysregulation disorder as early as possible to develop an appropriate treatment approach.
We offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for immunologic conditions:
- Common variable immunodeficiency
- Specific antibody deficiency
- Selective IgA deficiency
- Hyper IgE syndromes
- Combined immunodeficiencies (CID)
- Primary and secondary Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis syndromes
- Periodic fever syndromes
- Other antibody deficiency disorders
- Other primary cellular immunodeficiencies
Why Choose Cooper for Allergy and Immunology Care?
As a tertiary-care, academic health system, Cooper University Health Care is home to physicians and surgeons with advanced training in their specialties, including allergy and immunology.
With this expertise, our specialists accurately diagnose and effectively treat the full spectrum of allergic and immunologic conditions and work closely with other Cooper specialists as need to ensure every patient receives comprehensive and complete care.