Allergy and immunology is the area of medicine dedicated to the care and treatment of health concerns and conditions of the immune system, including allergic disease and related symptoms and reactions — from asthma, rhinitis, sinus problems, or seasonal allergies to life-threatening reactions to drugs, food, vaccines, and more. Allergy and immunology covers the hundreds of immune diseases that affect millions of people.
Allergy and immunology is the area of medicine dedicated to the study, diagnosis, and treatment of immune system conditions, including allergic disease and related symptoms and reactions — issues that affect many millions of Americans.
“We continue to see significant advancements in the allergy and immunology — in both our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of allergic disease and our approaches to managing these conditions,” says Castle Connolly Top Doctor Sebastian Lighvani, MD, director of New York Allergy & Asthma, PLLC; Clinical Assistant Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City; and attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, North Shore, New York.
“In this era of ‘precision medicine,’ our ability to tailor therapies for individual patients, along with biologic agents such as monoclonal antibodies, will revolutionize the management of difficult-to-treat conditions such as severe asthma, hives, eczema, nasal polyps, and food allergy,” says Dr. Lighvani.
“Another growing area of research is the use of immunotherapies in the management of life-threatening food allergies,” Dr. Lighvani adds. “Current treatments largely focus on avoiding allergenic foods and treating systemic reactions, but there will be more options in the not-so-distant future. Oral, sublingual, and epicutaneous immunotherapies will likely become mainstream, allowing patients to ingest allergenic foods without the risk of severe systemic reactions.”
The Differences Between Allergies and Colds
Though they may share many signs and symptoms, allergies and colds are different in important ways. An allergy is medical condition that causes an adverse bodily response to a food, drug, insect bite, seasonal allergen, or environmental allergen. Symptoms can be mild or severe — from itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, hives, or coughing to life-threatening anaphylaxis. In these severe reactions, symptoms commonly include tightening of the air passages; swelling of the face, mouth, eyes, and throat; severe vomiting; and even heart failure.
Patients with a history of severe reactions or who are at risk for anaphylaxis must exercise caution around trigger allergens. They are advised to always carry life-saving emergency medication, such as epinephrine, in case they are exposed to something they’re allergic to.
“Allergies, colds, and viral upper respiratory tract infections affect many people and share symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing,” explains Dr. Lighvani. “But there are some key clinical differences that can help us distinguish between these very common conditions.”
“Allergies are typically associated with significant itching of the eyes, nose, and throat and clear nasal discharge related to local histamine release,” Dr. Lighvani says. “And despite the term ‘hay fever,’ allergy sufferers rarely experience actual fever, which is a more typical feature of viral and/or bacterial upper-respiratory infections.”
Classic symptoms of colds include general aches and pains, more profound fatigue, and sore throat. Another differentiating feature of colds is the timeline of symptoms.
“Uncomplicated colds typically last 7-10 days before subsiding, while seasonal allergies triggered by pollen usually last several weeks to months,” Dr. Lighvani adds. “Some allergies can be more perennial in nature, depending on the type of allergen — pets or dust mites in the home, for example — and duration of allergen exposure.”