The Rundown on AllergiesJun 12, 2014
Studies show that more people suffer from allergies now than ever before. Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Kevin Wilson talks about what causes allergic reactions and why different people are allergic to different things. He discusses the gamut of allergic reactions, from a runny nose to asthma-inducing allergies. He also talks treatment options and how they can lead to a more productive life.
Interviewer: Do more people suffer from allergies now than ever before? Can untreated allergies lead to other health concerns? What is the most common allergy people experience? We're examine that and more next on The Scope.
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Interviewer: Dr. Kevin Wilson is an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at the University of Utah Hospital. The first thing I want to know from you is, is there a story as to why you become an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist specializing in allergies?
Dr. Wilson: I really like the anatomy. I like the communication parts of ENT. Helping people hear better, speak better, smell better.
Interviewer: Yeah, a personal story? Is there a personal story behind it for you?
Dr. Wilson: Not particularly. I do suffer from allergies myself so that is one of the reasons I got into allergy and helping people treat their allergies.
Interviewer: Yeah. Did you find that you weren't getting satisfaction with the cures that were out there or did you just want to help somebody like somebody helped you?
Dr. Wilson: Yeah they were OK. I mean I did what a lot of people do which is treat with over the counter things that may or may not have done a lot but the more I learned about it the more I found that with specific personalized treatment, people can really improve their symptoms specific to them.
Interviewer: OK. So let's talk about, what's the worst case of allergies that you've ever seen?
Dr. Wilson: Oh, that's hard to say, I mean, a lot of people with allergies suffer from serious problems like asthma and other things. Most people with allergies, it's a quality of life thing. I mean, you can live with allergies and in general they don't kill you like other diseases do; but they certainly affect your quality of life, your productivity at work, your ability to cope and sleep and take care of your family and just live day to day.
Interviewer: Yeah. What do most experience then? You kind of touched on that a little bit but . . .
Dr. Wilson: Well most people have a stuffy nose, itchy nose, itchy watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose but a lot of patients will also have asthma, and they'll have wheezing and shortness of breath when they get around things. Some people will have eczema and allergic dermatitis and then there is even food allergies that can cause stomach and other GI problems.
Interviewer: What is going on in my body exactly, when I'm experiencing an allergy?
Dr. Wilson: Well when you are exposed to something that you're allergic to, and of course everybody is allergic to different things, but let's just say you're allergic to grass and you go and roll around in the grass or mow the lawn, well those allergens then come in contact with the mucus membranes in your nose and in your throat and in your lungs, and it sets up a reaction where your body creates inflammation against it. And so that inflammation then is manifest in swelling in the nose which causes the stuffy nose it causes itchy and watery eyes, it can cause wheezing and shortness of breath. So it's kind of a variety of manifestations.
Interviewer: Why is my body reacting that way if I have a grass allergy, for example?
Dr. Wilson: You know it's, allergies are really the immune system gone bad.
Dr. Wilson: Your reacting to things they body thinks that are dangerous to you, like a bacteria or something foreign when in fact it's not dangerous to you. But and so your body is creating this over reactive response and giving you these symptoms. So that's why the treatments really are focused at helping you not react to those things or at least controlling those symptoms.
Interviewer: Why am I reacting that way though? Where did it start? Is it something wrong with me?
Dr. Wilson: No, it's, this goes back to evolutionary history. The same part of your immune system that reacts to allergies, actually reacts to parasites. So it turns out that people in third world countries have a much lower incidents of allergies than people in first world countries. Presumably because they are exposed to parasites there and so their immune system is busy fighting those parasites where as in our clean environment here in the first world we don't have those parasites to react against so we decide, our bodies instead react to these allergens and think they're dangerous where in fact they're not.
Interviewer: So our body almost needs something to react to; in an absence of parasites it's grass or tree pollen?
Dr. Wilson: In a way, yeah, in a way.
Dr. Wilson: And there is actually studies that show that kids that grow up in a dirtier environment, say if they have multiple kids versus one kid or they grow up on a farm or if they grow up in these sort of, "dirty environments", they actually have a less, less of incidents of allergy.
Interviewer: Boy, I wish that were my case. I was a ranch kid and I was miserable, grass and mold and the whole deal wasn't my case, I guess.
Dr. Wilson: Yeah, nothing's 100%, but studies show that your body kind of shifts that way.
Interviewer: Yeah. Huh, that's interesting. So, I suffer from, like, sneezing and watery eyes from mold, cat hair, pollen. Are there other kinds of allergies?
Dr. Wilson: Yeah, I mean the general classes of allergies would be the pollens, and we divide those into trees, grasses and weeds. There's dust, cat and dog and other dander, feather, sometimes hoarse, molds; those are the respiratory allergens. Then, of course, there are other things like food allergens and even like, contact sensitivities to other things as well.
Interviewer: So, if I'm in the mold category am I going to be likely allergic to most molds, or..?
Dr. Wilson: Again, they're very specific, so there's a variety of molds, and you may react to one and not to another or you may react to a variety of them.
Interviewer: Do more people suffer from allergies now, than before?
Dr. Wilson: Studies show that the incidences of allergies is increasing, and again, we think that may be due to the fact that we are living in a cleaner and cleaner environment. We're all running around, putting antibacterial soaps and alcohol washes on our hands and doing a lot of things to be clean; which is good to help prevent infection, but the down side to that is that may be causing more allergies.
Interviewer: So, I guess if there's a silver lining to this cloud it's the fact that you're healthy, that's why you have allergies.
Dr. Wilson: That's right.
Interviewer: Okay. Can untreated allergies lead to other health concerns? You had mentioned asthma can complicate it, allergies can complicate asthma, but could something else bad happen because I don't do anything with my allergies?
Dr. Wilson: I mean, usually not, allergies are associated with asthma, they can be associated with sinusitis and chronic sinus infections. People with real bad allergic dermatitis or eczema can have chronic problems with their skin. So, again, allergies are kind of associated with a lot of other things, mostly just causes a lot of decreased quality of life, but not necessarily dangerous diseases.
Interviewer: Any final thoughts?
Dr. Wilson: Well, it can definitely be treated. A lot of people think, you know, I have allergies, I've got to live with it. That's not the case, there are definitely things that you can do sometimes with the help of a physician or somebody that can kind of guide you in that direction can be a real help.
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