Dr. Richard Wachs discusses and debunks common allergy myths, like if pets are truly hypo-allergenic, does local honey actually work, and more!
Prakash Chandran: Over 50 million people in the US suffer from a variety of allergies. And with both seasonal and environmentalallergies, there's a lot of speculation floating around about what may trigger these reactions. But how do you separate fact versus fiction? We're going totalk about it today with Dr. Richard Wachs, allergist and medical director ofAspire Allergy and Sinus in Albuquerque.
This is ACHOO!, the podcast for people with allergies and sinus issues from Aspire Allergy and Sinus. My name is Prakash Chandran. So first of all, Dr. Wachs, it's great to have you here today. In the intro, I mentioned seasonal and environmental allergies. Can you explain the differences between the two?
Dr. Richard Wachs: Absolutely. Seasonal and environmental allergies are two different types of allergies that you can have. It's a similar type reaction, but the big difference is what's triggering them. In seasonal allergies, typically what's triggering your allergies are pollens that are coming out seasonally, so tree pollens more in the spring, weed pollens in late summer into the fall, grasses in the summer. So, your symptoms, if you're allergic to just one of those types of allergens, will be very seasonal and you might be fine the other times of the year. People with more environmental allergies may have seasonal allergies, but in addition, will have allergies to things that they're exposed to all year round, such as molds or pet danders or dust mites. Those are things that are year round and may get symptoms year round.
Prakash Chandran: Okay. So I want to start with the environmental triggers. You mentioned pet dander, and I've heard that it's better for peoplewith pet allergies to get short-haired pets versus long-haired pets. Is that true?
Dr. Richard Wachs: Well, the whole idea of the short hair versus along hair pet is kind of a myth because it's not the hair that people are allergic to. It's the dander, which is sort of like skin cells. So when people have their allergic reaction, it's coming off the dander and there've been studies looking to see which dog breeds put off more or less allergen. And they pretty much come to the same conclusion that there is no such thing as a hypo allergenic dog.
One of my favorite studies discusses the different animals, different dogs that have more or less allergen. And they found that in their studies, the dog that put off the least amount of allergen was a poodle, which most people would expect. However, the dog that put off the most amount of allergen was a poodle. So it was a more animal to animal differentiation as opposed to breed. And one of the things that study kind of determined is the animals that are kind of thought to be hypoallergenic are the ones that tend to get groomed more frequently because when you wash the dander off, you have less exposure.
Prakash Chandran: That totally makes sense. I've been telling people for so long, get a poodle if you have allergies, because they're said be hypoallergenic. But you just completely proved me wrong, didn't you?
Dr. Richard Wachs: Well, it's a common misconception.
Prakash Chandran: Yeah. Understood. And how about let's talk about the differences between dogs and cats. I've always heard that cats have more dander than dogs. Is that true?
Dr. Richard Wachs: Not necessarily. Cats do cause a lot of problems with allergies as do dogs do. If you're allergic to cats, you'll obviously have more problems around cats. The problem with danders in general, and cat dander tends to be more problematic than dog in this sense, is it tends to stick to things a lot stronger. So if there's a cat in the house, anybody who lives in that house will carry their cat's allergen out and with them wherever they go. So it tends to cause more problems even away from the cat.
Prakash Chandran: Okay. And is it possible for people to develop immunity over time? You know, for pet lovers, for example, they have to have a dog or they have to have a cat. I've heard that you can develop over time an immunity to the animal that you get, even though you're initially allergic. Is that a myth?
Dr. Richard Wachs: I wouldn't necessarily call it a myth, but it's highly unreliable. We do have a fair number of patients who are living with pets, having no issues with them, then they leave the situation. For example, a college student, child goes away to college. They come home for Thanksgiving and, all of a sudden, the dog they've had for years is now triggering symptoms because they've lost that little bit of immunity they've built up. A much more reliable way of developing that immunity to pet dander is with immunotherapy.
Prakash Chandran: Okay. So let's move on to some of the seasonal allergy myths. I've heard that you can actually cure your allergies with local honey. Is that true?
Dr. Richard Wachs: That is a myth and the science behind it, when you hear it, actually makes a lot of sense. When people are allergic to pollens, it is the windblown pollens, the tree pollens, grass pollens, things that don't need insects like these to transfer the pollen. The pollen that bees collect and is in the honey are the heavy pollens that don't trigger allergies. So are you being exposed to pollen? Yes, but it's not the same pollen that's triggering your allergies. So you won't develop immunity by doing immunotherapy, so to speak, with local honey.
Prakash Chandran: Okay. And you know, I think people, they want to try anything to cure these seasonal allergies, because I can speak from experience when the seasonal allergies come around, I definitely get affected. So what might you recommend is the best way for people to deal with seasonal allergies when the seasons come around?
Dr. Richard Wachs: Seasonal allergies and environmental, for that matter, can be quite a drain on the quality of life. And although there are many medications over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help with symptoms, they're not any form of cure. They don't get rid of the underlying reasons. What I would recommend if somebody is having ongoing issues with allergy symptoms, especially not controlled with the over-the-counter medications is they seek care from an allergist for immunotherapy, which is basically a method in which we introduce the allergen into the system in a different way, a different approach than through the nostrils as you normally get the allergen. And it retrains your body to ignore those allergens when theysee them. So you'll have less reactions, less than symptoms and less need for medication.
Prakash Chandran: Wow. I had no idea that you could do that. What's the efficacy like?
Dr. Richard Wachs: Efficacy is very good. We see upwards of 85% of patients getting a decrease in symptoms in varying degrees. There's no panacea of cure for everybody, but we do find that a very large proportion of patients on immunotherapy will get improvement in their symptoms.
Prakash Chandran: Yeah, that is amazing. You know, I want to address another myth that I've heard. I heard that, you know, when you might have allergies when you're younger, but it's something that you can outgrow without immunotherapy. Can you speak to that one?
Dr. Richard Wachs: That's not exactly a myth. When it comes to allergies, allergies are basically the immune system being hyperactive and people's immune system will change over time. So with time it is possible for people's allergies to improve even without immunotherapy. However, it is just as likely, if not more likely, for the symptoms to remain or worsen over time. So if you're a gambler who likes to take the chance, you can just treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medications and hope that next year is better than this year or you can come in for treatment and we can give you 85% chance that it will be.
Prakash Chandran: Okay. And I wanted to ask you about one more, I suppose this is an environmental trigger, but I've actually heard that if you give someone a fresh bouquet of flowers that can trigger a allergic response. Is that true?
Dr. Richard Wachs: No, it's not. And this goes back to what we were talking about with the types of pollens. One of the things that I find actually humorous is a lot of the companies who are selling medications, legitimate medications, for allergies, like the nasal sprays use flowers on their commercials to propagate this myth, to make you think that, "Oh, when you see flowers, your allergies are going to flare."
However, most flowers are bee-pollinated. And those again are the heavy pollens that are not triggering the symptoms. However, those sorts of pollens can absorb irritants, that you can get them into your nasal passages, especially if you take a deep sniff of the flowers, that the pollen can get into the nasal passages and cause an irritant reaction, then that's why some people, when they sniff flowers, they'll sneeze. It's more of an irritant reaction, but typically those aren't allergens that will trigger an immune response.
Prakash Chandran: You know, Dr. Wachs, talking about all of these different types of allergies and the myths behind them, I can't help but asking where do allergies come from in the first place? Is it something that we inherit from our parents or is it something that we basically get exposed to and develop over time as we're born? Can you speak to that a little bit?
Dr. Richard Wachs: Well, I guess short answer to your question is yes to both. The allergies in general do have a genetic component. People who have family members or parents who have allergies have a higher incidence of allergies themselves. But the way we develop allergies is when the body is exposed to foreign proteins, which we're exposed to every day. In most people, the body recognize them as not part of you, but not dangerous and ignores them. People who are prone to allergies when they're exposed, their immune system overreacts to them and triggers this immune response of an excess histamine release. So that's where those symptoms will come from. So there's both a genetic component and an exposure component.
Prakash Chandran: Okay. That is helpful. And from what I'm hearing from you, you know, it seems like you typically are allergic to what you're allergic to. And that the best treatment is to, number one, be aware of that, but, number two, understand that there's this thing called immunotherapy that you can do to help you offset some of the allergic reaction that you might have. Is that kind of the best advice that you give people with allergies?
Dr. Richard Wachs: Absolutely. If you have allergies that are significantly affecting your quality of life. Now, aside from food allergies, which can be anaphylactic and a topic of a different conversation. Most environmental and seasonal allergies, they're not dangerous, but they do have a significant effect on the quality of life with missed work and school days with just misery and there are far too many people out there who suffer through it because they think they have to, that there's no other choice, even when they're taking medications that are not helpful.
Allergists like us here at Aspire, we have multiple treatment options for patients with immunotherapy through allergy injections, through sublingual drops, that can be very helpful to decrease the reactions that you have to these allergens by retraining your immune system to ignore those allergens.
Prakash Chandran: Dr. Wachs, just as we close here. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our audience around these allergy myths or just taking care of themselves if they're allergic to things?
Dr. Richard Wachs: I think the most important thing is if somebody feels they have allergies or sometimes they say, "Well, I get a cold that will last four to six weeks at a time," and they're just miserable, there's no reason that they need to suffer that way. I think that being evaluated by an allergist, having the allergy testing to see what they might be allergic to and having a frank discussion about treatment options is the best way to get to a more satisfying life.
Prakash Chandran: Well, Dr. Wachs, I think that's the perfect place to end. Thank you so much for your time today.
Dr. Richard Wachs: Yeah, my pleasure.
Prakash Chandran: That was Dr. Richard Wachs, allergist and medical director of Aspire Allergy and Sinus in Albuquerque. To find out more information on myths about allergies, call (844) MY-RELIEF or visitaspireallergy.com/blog and click on the Top Eight Allergy Myths You Need to stop Believing Right Now. This has been ACHOO!, the podcast for people with allergies and sinus issues from Aspire Allergy and Sinus. I'm your host, Prakash Chandran. Thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. Richard A. Wachs is a board-certified provider in Allergy, Immunology and Pediatrics, with a focus on food allergies and community advocacy for families affected by food allergies. Dr. Wachs received his MD from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and completed his residency in Pediatric Medicine at Keesler Air Force Base, as part of the 81st Medical Group. While serving as a commissioned officer in the Air Force, Dr. Wachs practiced as a pediatrician for 4 years at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL.