Category Archives: MOLD ALLERGIES

Allergy Shots – A Brief Overview

Allergy shots are synonymous with other terms such as allergy immunotherapy, allergy injections, allergy desensitization, and allergy hyposensitization. The allergy shots Gainesville, VA residents rely upon are the same allergy shots that have been given in the U.S. for over 100 years. They have been an important method of preventing and/or diminishing allergy symptoms in tens of millions of individuals over the last century.

Allergy shots can be given to almost any person and are given to any individual over the age of 2. Usually, however, most children do not begin allergy injections earlier than 4 years of age. They can be given to children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. They can be continued in a pregnant individual as well as in a person who is nursing, as long as it is confirmed by the patient’s obstetrician and/or pediatrician of the nursing baby.

Allergy injections are given to patients with allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever)allergic conjunctivitisasthma, and venom hypersensitivity (i.e., allergy to stings of bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and/or bites from fire ants). The idea behind them is to get to the root of the problem, as opposed to treating the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma. By receiving allergy injections, one’s body develops antibodies that help prevent the allergen (e.g., dust mites, molds, pollens, pets, cockroaches, venom) from causing the unwanted allergy and/or asthma symptoms.

Allergy immunotherapy is useful and may be considered when one is allergic to substances that cannot be avoided. They are also used in individuals that have failed over the counter therapy and/or prescription medications. There are other individuals that do not want to take medications on a daily basis. Others have very severe symptoms and develop secondary problems (e.g., sinus infections, ear infections, bronchitis, asthma) from untreated or sub-par treatment from medications. Many people cannot deal with the side effects of many of the allergy medications. Still others would like to treat the cause of the allergy rather than just treat the symptoms of allergy and/or asthma.

During allergy immunotherapy, very small doses of the allergens that the individual is allergic to are administered subcutaneously (i.e., just under the skin into the fat) of the arm(s) either once a week or twice a week, depending on the patient’s choice. Obviously, if the individual receives the injections more frequently (i.e., twice a week vs. once a week), he or she will get through the build-up process twice as fast. Each dose is increased in strength over the build-up period which at Black & Kletz Allergy is usually 18 doses. Therefore, the maintenance dose (i.e., top dose) is reached in 9 or 18 weeks depending if the individual gets his or her build-up shots twice a week or once a week respectively. Once the maintenance dose is reached, the individual can spread out the frequency of the injections to up to every 4 weeks. Note that many people get their shots more frequently throughout the year depending on their “bad” seasons, such as Spring and Fall which in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area is very common. Others need their injections more frequently throughout the year since they have perennial symptoms which may require them to get the injections more frequently, depending on their severity of allergy and/or asthma symptoms. The average length of time someone is on the allergy shots Gainesville, VA residents receive from Black & Kletz Allergy ranges between 3-5 years. It is important to note that allergy shots to venoms have a different build-up and maintenance schedule.

The effectiveness of allergy injections is excellent. They have been shown work in 80-85% of individuals taking them. Venom immunotherapy is effective in over 90% of patients receiving them. Allergy injections may also prevent the development of asthma in children with allergic rhinitis. They help to prevent the inflammation that occurs in a typical allergic encounter. Normally when an individual is exposed to a known allergen, many chemicals such as histamine and leukotrienes are released into the bloodstream of the patient. These chemicals are responsible for producing the miserable symptoms of allergies, and in addition, cause inflammation to occur. The allergy shots Gainesville, VA patients receive help the body naturally produce antibodies that will help prevent this process from occurring and thus the individual suffers much less or not at all and has much less or no development of allergic inflammation.

There are essentially no side effects of allergy shots, however there are two risks. The first being the chance of having a local reaction at the site of the injection which may include localized itchiness, redness and/or swelling. The second risk is that of a systemic reaction such as developing generalized itching, hives, swelling, wheezing, abdominal cramps, drop in blood pressure, which potentially can be serious. For that reason, although very rare to occur, it is important to wait 30 minutes in our office after an allergy injection, so that we could treat you with epinephrine and/or Benadryl if necessary. Despite the rarity of a systemic reaction, it can occur and it is necessary to wait the 30 minutes after an injection. A longer wait time is needed for individuals receiving venom immunotherapy.

In summary, allergy shots are a very effective treatment modality for individuals with allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, asthma, and/or venom hypersensitivity. As mentioned above, they have been given in the U.S. for over a century and can be given to all ages from young children to the elderly. The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been administering allergy shots for over 50 years. We have one office location in Washington, DC and 2 offices in Northern Virginia with one office in McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA) and another in Manassas, VA. We have on-site parking at all 3 office locations and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible. There is a free shuttle that runs between the McLean office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. If you suffer from allergies, asthma, sinus problems, hives, swelling episodes, and/or immunological conditions, please call our office to schedule an appointment or you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day. Black & Kletz Allergy prides ourselves in providing high quality allergy and asthma care in a professional, inviting, and friendly environment.

SINUS INFECTION vs. “COLD” vs. WINTER ALLERGIES vs. FLU

As Winter approaches, people with dust, mold, and pet allergies tend to suffer more than those with pollen allergies.  Pollen levels in the mid-Atlantic region (Washington, DC, Virginia, Maryland, etc.) become immeasurable once the first frost occurs.  The first frost usually occurs by November in our region of the country.  Therefore, when people experience the typical allergy symptoms during the late Fall and Winter months, dust mites and/or molds are generally the culprits.  Keep in mind that there are other causes of these symptoms, namely the common cold, flu (influenza), or other upper respiratory tract infection (i.e., sinus infection, bronchitis).  How does one know the difference between winter allergies, a “cold,” the “flu” or other type of upper respiratory tract infection?

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Winter Allergies – the same symptoms as seasonal allergies and can include all or some of the following:  runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, sore throat, cough, sneezing, itchy nose, itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, itchy throat, fatigue, sinus headaches, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Common Cold – can include all or some of the above symptoms, but in addition may contain achiness, fever, and chills, although discolored nasal discharge and a fever do not occur in most cases of the common cold.

“Flu” (also referred to as influenza) – can include all or some of the symptoms of the common cold, but unlike a “cold,” there is usually severe achiness and/or headache, and a fever is almost always present.

Note:  For the flu season of 2014-2015, one must be cognizant of the recent Ebola epidemic in Western Africa.  If a person develops “flu-like” symptoms and has traveled to Western Africa and/or if they have been in contact with someone infected with the Ebola virus in the last 21 days, he or she must assume that they could have Ebola and should contact the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and local county and state health agencies for guidance about seeking medical care at an appropriate hospital.  If one cannot get in touch with the CDC or local health agency, they should go immediately to closest emergency room.

Sinus Infection (also referred to as sinusitis) – can include all or some of the symptoms of the common cold, but unlike a “cold,” there usually is discolored nasal discharge, sinus pain and/or pain that radiates to the teeth.

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES?

Winter Allergies – Dust mites; Molds: Pets; Cockroaches

Common Cold – Viruses [Rhinoviruses, Coronaviruses, Parainfluenza viruses, and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are the most common ones]; Note that there are many more viruses that cause the common cold. “Flu” – Viruses (Influenza virus types A, B, and/or C)

Sinus Infection – Viruses, Bacteria, and/or Fungi (Most are caused by viruses)

HOW ARE THESE CONDITIONS DIAGNOSED? Besides a thorough history of your symptoms and a physical examination, the following also help our physicians distinguish between the 4 common conditions below:

Winter Allergies – An experienced allergist can perform blood and/or skin tests to evaluate if you have a true allergy to one of the many allergens that can cause winter allergy symptoms.  When symptoms last longer than 1-2 weeks or there is a history of recurring symptoms every Winter or perennial (year-round) symptoms, allergies should be a top concern.

Common Cold – Typically the symptoms last less than 1 week in duration and resolve on their own.

“Flu” – A fever is the hallmark of this condition.  The flu can be very serious particularly in the elderly.  There are rapid influenza diagnostic tests that can identify the flu in about 30 minutes.  These require that the physician to wipe the inside of the back of one’s throat or nose with a swab and then send it for testing.  They are not 100% accurate however.

Sinus Infection – The symptoms may begin as a result of an individual being exposed to an allergen, virus, and/or bacteria.  A thorough history together with a complete examination of the ears, nose, mouth, and throat can usually identify a sinus infection in the majority of patients.  Further diagnostic studies such as a CT scan of the sinuses may be necessary in some individuals.  When there is recurrent sinus infections, the diagnosis of chronic sinusitis and/or an immunologic disorder should be investigated by an experienced allergist.

WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS?

Winter Allergies – There are many allergy medications that can be used which include tablets, syrups, nasal sprays, and/or allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy or allergy injections).

Common Cold – Usually self-limited and generally does not require treatment except to help relieve symptoms with medications and nasal sprays.

“Flu” – Usually self-limited and generally does not require treatment except to help relieve symptoms with medications and nasal sprays.  Occasionally a severe case or a case in the elderly may need hospital care of complications from the flu which can include dehydration, pneumonia, and other more severe complications. Antiviral flu medications can be taken to reduce the duration and severity of the flu. These medications work best if they are taken within the first 48 hours of the beginning of symptoms, however they can still be effective if taken later.

Sinus Infection – May need to be treated with antibiotics if it persists or is recurrent.  Other medications may also be used if needed to help alleviate the symptoms with tablets, syrups, and/or nasal sprays.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT THESE CONDITIONS?

Winter Allergies – Avoidance of dust mites, molds, and pet exposure.  Allergy medications and/or allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy or allergy injections).

Common Cold – Washing of hands; good hygiene; avoidance of crowded areas.

“Flu” – Flu vaccination (unless one has a reason not to take it such as egg allergy, previous reaction to the flu vaccine or the preservative used in the flu vaccine, etc.).  In addition, one should avoid exposure to people with the flu.  They should also practice good hygiene, avoid crowded areas during the flu season, wash their hands, etc.

Sinus Infection – Control allergies; washing of hands, good hygiene; avoidance of crowded areas.

As one can see from the information above, it may not be so easy for the average person to distinguish the difference between Winter allergies, the common cold, the flu, and a sinus infection.  Many of the symptoms are the same, similar, and/or overlap.  The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have the expertise to help diagnose the correct ailment and more importantly, treat your problem.  We have 3 office locations in the Washington, DC metro and Virginia areas and we will be happy to schedule a visit for you at your earliest convenience.

Mold Allergies

As the temperatures are dropping and the leaves are starting to “fall”, the ragweed and other weed pollen counts are also gradually decreasing, but the mold spores will be a significant trigger of asthma and allergy symptoms in the coming few months for sensitized individuals.

Mold is a fungus which can cause bothersome symptoms in a few different ways:

  1. Allergic Reaction:  Though all of us are exposed to molds, only some of us develop “sensitivity” to them determined by our genetic composition.  When a genetically predisposed individual inhales spores from molds, his/her immune system considers them as foreign invaders and manufactures antibodies in an attempt to fight them.  These antibodies memorize the particular spores and “attack” them when they are exposed to them again.  This reaction causes certain chemicals like histamine to be released into the tissues which cause the typical symptoms of sneezing, stuffy/runny nose, itchy/watery eyes, etc. (Note: If your vision is seriously impaired, it may be a sign on something more severe, and you may wish to consult with a LASIK surgeon in Washington DC.)
  2. Irritant Reaction:  Molds can release substances called volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which can irritate skin and mucus membranes inside the mouth, nose and eyes resulting in burning sensation, watery eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat and cough.
  3. Toxic Reaction:  Mycotoxins, produced by certain types of molds, in addition to causing irritant symptoms can also lead to flu-like symptoms, fatigue, headache, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
  4. Infection:  Though skin lesions are the most common infectious manifestation, different types of molds also can cause respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological disorders.

Molds are found in both indoor and outdoor environments and thrive in high humidity.  Moist and decaying leaves on the ground, which tend to peak in the Fall, form a substrate for the mold growth.  Damp basements, leaky faucets, wet shower curtains, and wet bathroom tiles also encourage proliferation of molds.  Though many mold overgrowths are visible, their spores are microscopic and are air-borne.  The most common types of molds that cause human suffering are alternariahormodendrumcladosporium and penicillium.

Most people sensitive to mold spores only exhibit “hay fever”- like symptoms involving the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat.  Less commonly, molds also play a role in more serious conditions like:

  1. Allergic Asthma:  In sensitized individuals with a history of asthma, mold spores can induce sudden and severe flare-ups of asthma symptoms which may require emergency treatments and/or cause an increase in the number or dose of controller medications.
  2. Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA):  It is a hypersensitive reaction to a particular type of mold called aspergillus in the lungs of patients with persistent asthma or cystic fibrosis.
  3. Allergic Fungal Sinusitis:  A chronic inflammatory response of the membranes and tissues inside the sinus cavities can be caused by certain types of molds in susceptible people.

Diagnosis:  Mold allergies can be detected either by skin testing or by measuring the amount of specific IgE antibodies in a blood sample by a clinical laboratory.  Skin testing is a more sensitive test and is the preferred method used by allergists.  A detailed history of the symptoms and their possible triggers in the environment followed by a focused physical examination will help the allergist in determining the type of testing needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment:  The first principle in the management of any allergic disorder is to identify the possible triggering and aggravating factors in the environment and to avoid exposure to them to the extent possible.  To reduce exposure to the mold spores, the following measures can be quite useful:

  1. As dampness encourages mold growth, indoor humidity levels should be kept below 50 percent. Avoiding water leaks and running a dehumidifier in damp and musty areas of the house can also inhibit mold proliferation.
  2. Installing HEPA filters in HVAC systems and changing them periodically will reduce indoor spore counts by trapping them before fresh air is circulated.
  3. Adequate ventilation of the bathrooms either by running the exhaust fan or opening the windows will reduce mold growth.  Keep in mind that by opening the windows, outdoor molds may enter one’s home which can be counterintuitive.
  4. Proper care of indoor plants such as removing the dead leaves and avoiding standing water can be helpful.
  5. Wearing a face mask to cover the nose and the mouth before raking leaves and cutting grass will reduce exposure to molds substantially.
  6. Mold spore counts are usually higher at nights when the atmosphere is cool and damp.  Closing the windows will keep the outdoor molds from entering inside one’s home.

Medications like ocular, nasal, and oral antihistamines as well as nasal and inhaled anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve the misery of symptoms to a certain extent.  When environmental control measures and medications do not help enough or when the side effects of the drugs are bothersome, a desensitization process (i.e, allergy shots or allergy immunotherapy), which induces tolerance to the offending allergens, can be a long term solution which is highly efficacious.

The board certified physicians and staff at Black & Kletz Allergy have the training, expertise, and decades of experience in the diagnosis and treatment of adults and children with mold and other allergies in a professional, caring, and patient-friendly environment in the Washington, DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia area.