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Spring allergy season is here: Q&A with an Emory allergist

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Jennifer Johnson McEwen
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With the spring allergy season well underway, Emory Healthcare allergist Marissa Shams, MD, demonstrates how to properly use a nasal steroid spray and discusses when to see an allergist, what to expect, and the purpose of allergy shots. Dr. Shams is an Assistant Professor of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine.

How can I tell if I’m having a cold or allergy symptoms?

Normally, allergy symptoms will be more persistent and last longer, whereas a typical cold or viral infection will clear up in five to 10 days. Also, allergy symptoms usually have "itchy" symptoms – itchy eyes, itchy throat, itchy nose- which we don’t usually see with colds or viral infections.

When should I seek the care of an allergist?

You should visit an allergist if you continue to have allergy-type symptoms and have never seen an allergist in the past or if you have a diagnosis of hay fever or allergic rhinitis and would like additional help controlling your symptoms. 

What are the benefits of seeing an allergist vs. using over-the-counter allergy drugs to control my symptoms?

An allergist can help control your symptoms through a variety of treatments and therapies including shots, medications and nasal sprays that may not be available at your local drugstore. We can also help identify what you’re allergic to and help educate you on how to best remedy your environment and eliminate or minimize your exposure to environmental allergens.

If I’ve never been to an allergist, what can I expect in a visit to an allergist?

When you seek the care of an allergist, you will typically have an in-depth discussion about the symptoms you’re experiencing and the timing of these symptoms. During your first or second visit, you may undergo allergy testing to learn more about the allergens that are causing your problem. This usually involves a skin prick test, which helps us check for immediate allergic reactions to many different inhalant allergies at once. The test is usually done on the forearm or back and takes about 20 minutes. You can expect results of the test the same day.

I hear a lot about allergy shots. What are they? 

Allergy shots are a form of treatment called allergy immunotherapy. The shots are a custom mix of the things to which you are personally allergic and are made individually for each person. The shots can be an effective technique for the management of inhalant allergens which come from pollens from grasses, trees and weeds, mold spores, pet dander, and dust mites.

Will allergy shots help permanently eliminate my allergies?   

Over the course of therapy, which can take approximately three to five years, the shots change your immune response to things you’re allergic to and you become less allergic to those items.  

How do I know if I’m a candidate for allergy shots?

Typically, patients who are good candidates for allergy shots are those who have a demonstrable history of inhalant or environmental allergies, well-controlled asthma and no complicating medical problems. The decision to pursue allergy shots should be addressed on a case-by-case basis with your allergist.  

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