Allergies affect a significant number of Americans and they are amongst leading causes of chronic illness across the country. Respiratory tract (nasal, sinus, throat, voice box, windpipe and lung) allergies are also associated with chronic sinusitis, bronchitis and asthma in adults and children. Incidence of allergies is on the rise, meaning more and more people develop them each year. The social, psychological and financial impact of allergies with numerous days of lost work and productivity, poor quality of life and health, and enormous cost of medical treatment of allergies is well known. As an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, otherwise known as an ENT), Dr. Michel Babajanian specializes in the diagnosis and treatment as well as comprehensive care of patients with respiratory allergies that affect the ears, nose, and throat. From his state-of-the-art office in Century City, he serves adult and pediatric patients from diverse communities in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California for evaluation and treatment of allergies.

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What causes an allergy attack?

Your immune system is your body’s internal shield designed to protect you from illness-causing bacteria and viruses. This defensive system also safeguards you from allergens, allergy causing elements in the environment, which normally are harmless. For some people, though, allergens cause the immune system to overreact in an exaggerated manner. In such individuals, exposure to offending allergens such as tree and flower pollens, grass, dust and dust mite, animal dander and environmental molds results in the body releasing a complex number of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine and leukotrienes. The impact of these chemicals on different organs of the body produce typical signs and symptoms of allergy. Particularly the nose, throat and ears as well as voice box, lungs and windpipes are very sensitive to these released inflammatory chemicals and react by the typical swelling, sneezing, itching, congestion and producing excessive mucus and coughing.This is when you feel the effects of having an “allergy attack”.

Allergy is generally a chronic and genetic condition. Symptoms of allergies may last for a long time or occur frequently as perennial (all year round) or seasonal allergies. Anyone can be born with an allergy or develop one during their lifetime but its incidence is much higher when you are born to parents who have history of allergic disease. Although occurrence of allergies in genetically predisposed individuals cannot be prevented, allergic reactions can be reduced, prevented or treated once an allergic disease has been diagnosed properly. Reducing environmental exposure by maintaining clean living and working space, use of variety of medications such as antihistamines, nasal sprays and other anti-inflammatory medications and finally allergy desensitization (aka ”allergy shots”) are well known effective treatment strategies for dealing with this very common illness.

Which allergies affect the ear, nose, and throat?

As a physician who specializes in  Ear, Nose, and Throat disorders, Dr. Michel Babajanian diagnoses and treats not just “nasal allergies” but all forms of nasal inflammatory conditions including rhinitis sicca (aka “dry nose” often associated with bacterial overgrowth on nasal membranes), vasomotor rhinitis, nasal polyps, “hay fever”, postnasal drip, acute and chronic sinusitis, and seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis. It is very important to have a correct diagnosis of the cause of the nasal problems so appropriate and effective treatment is recommended and unnecessary medications are avoided. Not all nasal conditions are “allergic” in origin but when allergic rhinitis is diagnosed, these allergies are mostly triggered by one or more of the following airborne allergens:

  • Pollen: In the early spring, allergic rhinitis is typically caused by pollen from trees. Although flowering springtime plants are often blamed for allergies, they rarely cause them because their pollen is too heavy to be airborne. Certain types of grass produce allergy-inducing pollen in late spring and summer months. In early to mid-autumn, ragweed is a major cause of allergic rhinitis.
  • Mold: Mold spores are present throughout the year, both outdoors and indoors. Dead leaves, mulch, indoor plants, bathrooms, old books, and damp areas are places where mold is found. Exposure to allergenic molds may result in serious and long lasting respiratory problems.
  • Household allergens: These ever-present allergens are present all year long and include dust mites and pet dander as well as molds in high humidity environments. Depending on level of sensitivity to these allergens different members of a family may exhibit signs and symptoms of allergies.

What are typical allergy symptoms?

An allergic reaction usually triggers symptoms in the respiratory tract, including your nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs, but symptoms can also affect your ears and eyes. For some people, an allergic reaction may also trigger asthma and difficulty breathing. The severity of your symptoms depends on the how allergic you are to the offending allergen (s). Common allergy symptoms include:

  • Coughing, sore and itchy throat, or laryngitis and hoarseness
  • Sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, or nasal itch
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Red, itchy, or swollen eyes
  • Congested and clogged ears or frequent “ear popping”.

How are these allergies diagnosed and treated?

With his unparalleled expertise and experience, Dr. Babajanian can typically get to the root of an undiagnosed allergy problem within a single appointment, which includes a consultation, examination, and specific treatment plan.

After reaching a diagnosis, Dr. Babajanian develops an appropriate treatment plan. Treatment always includes helping patients learn how to avoid allergens whenever possible in their living and working environment. For patients who would benefit, Dr. Babajanian can recommend over-the-counter and prescription medications (such as antihistamines and decongestants) to help control the bothersome symptoms. Only in cases that do not respond to simple measures such as environmental avoidance and hygiene as well as medications, allergy skin testing and potentially allergy shots are recommended. Allergy desensitization is effective in selected patients but is cumbersome and time consuming requiring many years of disciplined allergy shots, not practical for many patients.