At the 2009 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology meeting in Washington we spoke with Dr. Clifford Basset, Medical Director of Allergy and Allergy Care of New York. Dr. Basset is Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at SUNY Health Center as well as Clinical Instructor at NYU School of Medicine.
If I had a runny nose...
Dr. Basset: If you have a runny nose, is it during the pollen season? Had you just been exposed to pollen in the park, or have you been brushing your cat? The trick with allergy symptoms is that itchiness is one of those symptoms we see. Itchiness associated with a runny nose. If its clear its more likely to go along with an allergy. If you have a cold or infection mucus coming from your nose can be colored or thick and associated with facial discomfort; and pain even, in sinusitis. And that is how sometimes we'll tell whether you actually need to medicate or not.
How is allergic rhinitis diagnosed?
Dr. Basset: Well, allergic rhinitis is basically indoor or outdoor allergies. And what we talk about is that it is all about the nose. If you have a family history you are likely to have allergic rhinitis. It’s something that we can do very simply in the office. Diagnostic allergy skin tests to determine if you have allergic triggers and if your condition requires an allergy treatment program. So it is important to note that simple diagnostic tests can be done in the office to see whether you have allergies or you do not. And that is the first step in getting relief is finding out what the problem is.
What are the diagnostic tests used?
Dr. Basset: Diagnostic allergy tests are simple, easy to do, and very safe. They can be done in children, adolescents, and in adults. The typical allergist will do an allergy skin test, which is very simple and straightforward. The answers to the testing are usually evident within 10 to 20 minutes. Simple skin tests can be placed on the arm and the results can be read almost immediately, in about ten or twenty minutes, and these will tell you whether you have seasonal allergies to trees, grass, weeds; indoor allergies, cat or dog dander, feather, dust mites, cockroach, mold spores. All these collectively develop seasonal or indoor allergies, or in other words, allergic rhinitis. The diagnoses is very easy to make, and it’s a lot of fun, it’s safe to do, and I think that most people when they come in are relieved to see how simple and easy it really is.
What will the test consist of?
Dr. Basset: When we do allergy testing on an individual child, adolescent, or adult, we take little plastic pricks that contain substances such as tree pollen, grass pollen, mold spores, cat dander, and even foods, and we touch it gently on top of the skin. It’s called a scratch test. There is virtually no pain involved and to read the test results you would get a little redness around the test site in about 10 or 20 minutes. It’s virtually painless, it’s a lot of fun, and people find it very interesting in seeing right away what is causing their allergy symptoms. It will confirm a diagnosis of allergy and be very helpful in managing your condition especially if it is persistent or recurring.
How is allergic rhinitis managed?
Dr. Basset: The first way is prevention. We can't quarantine people and not let them leave their homes. For indoor allergic and outdoor allergic individuals who have allergic rhinitis, prevention. We talk about keeping the windows closed. We talk about air conditioners, changing the filters. Outdoor activities on high pollen days, perhaps modifying your routine, stay indoors on high pollen days. Even take a vacation by a body of water where pollen counts are typically lower, such as a beach, lake or river. There are a variety of allergy survival tips that actually work.
Dr. Basset: If I had a runny nose and I suspect I may have allergies, talk to your practitioner or see an allergist for diagnostic testing. Find out indeed if you have allergic rhinitis and other related conditions. Great treatments are available. Once you know what your diagnosis is you can get proper treatment and not unnecessary treatment. So it’s simple, easy to do, and its quite interesting especially if you have a family history, and understanding how you developed your condition.