Many of us are familiar with the watery eyes, unpleasant stuffiness, or nagging cough that can come from allergies. For others, allergies can be much more severe than uncomfortableness. However, too many of us simply deal with the seasonal unpleasantness of allergies without seeking medical help. Many people likely don’t consider the potential issues that can occur when allergies are left untreated. What exactly happens when allergens are left untreated? Let’s take a look.
What Are Allergies?
Before diving into the effects of leaving allergens untreated, it is important to understand what exactly an allergen is as well as what causes allergies. An allergen is simply any type of substance that produces an allergic reaction in a person. Common allergens include things like dust, pollen, and fungal spores as well as things like certain foods, drugs, and insect bites.
But how do allergens negatively impact us? An allergen produces a response known as an allergy. This happens when your immune system detects the allergen as a foreign substance. It responds by producing a specific type of antibody known as an IgE antibody. This antibody’s role is to defend the body against the foreign substance. This, unfortunately, causes allergic reactions ranging from mild discomfort to potentially life-threatening complications depending on the allergy and level of response.
How Are Allergies Treated?
There is a wide range of ways that allergies are treated. Severe allergies are generally treated by avoiding the cause (i.e. food allergies, severe insect allergies) and carrying an intervention in case of exposure such as an Epi-pen. Relatively mild environmental allergies may be treated by a general physician or with over-the-counter medications.
However, many people need to treat their allergies by seeing an allergist, which is essentially a physician that specializes in these conditions. This allergy doctor typically treats both allergies and asthma. They have special training including three years of post-medical school study in allergy and immunology which enables them to more effectively identify triggers.
Individuals may also be referred to a doctor that practices otolaryngology, which is a specialty that focuses on conditions affecting the ear, nose, and throat. Doctors who practice otolaryngology are more commonly referred to as ENT doctors. Since these physicians focus on areas that are often affected by allergies, they may be able to treat them; however, seeing an allergist is often more effective, particularly for severe or chronic allergies.
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When seeing an allergist for treatment, you will likely undergo many different tests to identify your allergies and the best course of treatment. These may include blood tests, patch tests (to detect contact dermatitis causes), skin tests (which use small pricks to test for up to 50 allergens), and tests of respiratory function. The results of these tests will lead to a course of treatment, which may range from taking over-the-counter medicines and seeking to avoid triggers to stronger prescription medicines or periodic immunotherapy injections (commonly known as “allergy shots”).
What If I Don’t Treat My Allergies?
While many people receive medical treatment for their allergies, the reality is that a lot of people never both seek formal treatment. One in six Americans – approximately 50 million people – experience allergies. Allergies cannot be cured; however, treatment is generally effective in mediating major concerns. For individuals who choose not to get their allergies treated, many potential problems can develop as a result.
One of the most common problems experienced when people do not adequately treat their allergies is infection. Many of us become frustrated by the stuffy noses from time to time. However, failing to treat these issues can easily lead to infections. In fact, people who do not treat their allergies are at a much higher risk of developing frequent sinus and ear infections, which can be frustrating.
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A major problem that can develop from untreated allergies is the development of asthma or the increased frequency of asthma attacks. This is particularly common with people who suffer from pollen and dust allergies. Since allergies tend to negatively impact the respiratory process, it makes sense that they could cause problems with asthma. For individuals who have asthma as well as allergies, treatment is very important.
People who leave allergies untreated may experience more frequent sick leave due to increased infections. However, that is not the only way untreated allergies can cause problems. Research has shown that untreated allergies lead to significant decreases in productivity. Furthermore, a study in Norway found that untreated allergies also impact the ability of children to learn, with 10% of allergy sufferers seeing a drop in performance of an entire letter grade when pollen counts were high.
Sleep & Fatigue
Failing to treat allergies also can lead to a distinct lack of sleep. If you’ve experienced a particularly bad allergic attack, you’re probably familiar with frequent waking due to a runny or stuffy nose. It’s well-known that sleep is incredibly important to functioning. Thus, failing to treat your allergies can self-sabotage you in this manner.
While not directly caused by untreated allergies, people can develop mood disorders or exacerbate existing ones due to untreated allergies. Lack of sleep, particularly that which leads to chronic fatigue, is known to lead to increased stress and anxiety. It has also been shown to negatively impact memory. The reality is that untreated allergies can lead to problems that can compound into larger issues much like a runaway stack of dominoes.
Anaphylaxis is a condition that can be experienced when someone has an extremely severe reaction to an allergen. The flood of chemicals released by the immune system to combat the allergen can lead to issues such as a sudden drop in blood pressure, narrowing airways, and potentially stopping breathing. While the anaphylactic shock is only experienced with severe allergies, failure to carry a product to intervene such as an Epi-pen can lead to death.
What Should I Do?
If you suffer from allergies, you should speak with your primary care physician about the issue. Less severe allergies may be easily treated with over-the-counter medications; however, people with mild or severe allergies should seek out treatment from a specialist such as an allergist. This is incredibly important for ensuring that the causes and triggers can be successfully identified and an ideal treatment is determined.
Having your allergies treated by a specialist can also ensure that the treatment is monitored for effectiveness, helping prevent the many potential problems that can develop as a result of ineffectively dealing with allergies. Given the many problems that can develop from failing to treat allergies, it is almost a situation where failing to address them can be a self-inflicted case of medical negligence. Why sabotage your quality of life when treating allergies can be relatively easy and provide clear relief?