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May 27
Peanut Allergy: Advances in Diagnosis and Treatment

 

It is estimated that food allergy affects approximately 5% of adults and 8% of children, with peanut allergy nearing approximately 2% of the population. A peanut allergy is when the immune system makes a type of antibody called IgE towards specific proteins in peanut. When a person with peanut allergy is exposed to these peanut proteins, the peanut specific IgE antibodies cause allergy cells (mast cells, basophils, eosinophils, etc.) to create an allergic reaction. The symptoms of an IgE mediated allergic reaction generally happen within minutes to two hours after exposure to the food and can include: itching, flushing, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, repeated coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, hoarseness, change in voice, dizziness, weakness, fainting,  low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, or diarrhea. Such reactions can be life threatening.

 

The history of a previous reaction is one of the most important diagnostic tools in determining if an IgE mediated food allergy is present. If the history is consistent with an IgE mediated food allergy (timing and symptoms), then further testing may be needed to confirm this allergy, or to determine if a patient has grown out of their food allergy. The gold standard for food allergy diagnosis is an oral food challenge, which is when the food thought to cause an allergic reaction is given to the patient in a medical facility in small increments and increased until either an allergic reaction occurs, or a serving size is reached. Realistically, however,  this is mainly performed to rule out a food allergy, and is performed if the likelihood of having an IgE mediated food allergy reaction is low. In order to determine the likelihood of an IgE mediated food allergy the following tests are available: specific IgE towards peanut, peanut component testing to proteins in peanut (Ara h 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9), and skin prick testing. Screening with panels of different food IgE’s without a previous history of a reaction to that food is poorly informative, and should not be done for routine evaluation of allergy. This is because a positive serum food specific IgE test may show sensitization, but not necessarily clinical allergy. This is an important distinction because a patient may have an elevated serum IgE to a food and have no allergic reaction when eating this food.
 
Skin prick testing is usually done first, as it is a less invasive test. Sometimes specific serum IgE to peanut is also obtained to determine the likelihood of IgE mediated peanut allergy. The level that is considered to be associated with a clinical allergy is different for each food. Peanut component testing may also be helpful. This looks at the specific IgE levels of different peanut proteins. If the Ara h 8 level is elevated, this is associated with less likelihood of a clinical allergy to peanut, whereas elevated IgE levels to Ara h 1, 2, and 3 are associated more with clinical allergy. It is important to have a board certified allergist evaluate these tests and determine if an oral food challenge is warranted.
 
The current approach to managing peanut allergy is avoidance and treating allergic reactions promptly and appropriately. However, there are ongoing trials to investigate the potential of treating peanut allergy. The most promising trials include: Oral Immunotherapy (OIT), Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT), Epicutaneous Immunotherapy (EPIT), and a Chinese herbal formula.  OIT has been studied the longest (more than 10 years) and has shown both short term and longer-term responses to therapy. However, it does have its limitations due to safety issues. In one trial, after receiving 4g of peanut for 5 years through OIT, 50% of subjects passed an oral food challenge and were able to re-incorporate peanut into their diets. The most limiting side effect from OIT is that 10-15% experience gastrointestinal symptoms that prevent the continuation of therapy. Other more severe symptoms have also been reported. SLIT is similar to OIT, but smaller doses of allergen are administered under the tongue. This has been shown to have fewer side effects than OIT. In one study, after 44 weeks of therapy, 70% of patients were able to consume 5g of peanut powder, or at least 10-fold more peanut powder than at baseline. EPIT uses delivery of peanut allergen to the skin, called a peanut patch. A large study is currently ongoing for the peanut patch in the United States and Europe. No safety concerns have been noted after 11 months of EPIT. A Chinese herbal formal is also being investigated that has shown no significant side effects.
 

 

Peanut allergy diagnosis and determining if a patient has out-grown this allergy can be difficult and requires specialized training from a board certified allergist. At Allergy Partners, all of our physicians are board certified or eligible allergists and we stay up to date with the latest in diagnostics and treatment.

 

 
 

 

April 28
Ask the Expert: "I have hives. I must have allergies."

Your Allergy Partners physician would likely respond to the above statement with a cautious “maybe.”  Hives, like many of the responses of the body, can be caused by many stimuli, not just allergies.  Take, for instance, the similar example of sneezing.  Sneezing is a common allergic symptom; however, we all know that non-allergic stimuli can cause sneezing, from infections due to the common cold to irritants in the air (pepper, for example). In a likewise fashion, hives can be due to allergic and non-allergic causes. 

 

Your Allergy Partners doctor will take a careful history and perform a thorough examination when considering whether your hives are due to an allergic reaction.  Be prepared to answer questions on how long your symptoms have lasted, any recent exposures to new foods or medications, and whether you have experienced any other symptoms. 
 
If you have had hives almost daily for six weeks or more, your allergist may use the term “chronic” to describe your condition.  Hives lasting less than six weeks are called “acute”.  The distinction between “acute” and “chronic” is important, as acute hives are more frequently associated with identifiable causes.  If supported by the details of your history, allergy testing may be helpful in identifying causes of acute hives. 
 
Many non-allergic conditions have been reported to be associated with chronic hives, including various infections, connective tissue diseases, thyroid dysfunction, and endocrine disorders.  If your symptoms do not readily suggest one of these conditions, extensive laboratory testing is not typically warranted or necessary.  Extensive testing is not cost-effective and does not appear to improve patient outcomes.  In light of an unremarkable clinical history and physical examination, laboratory evaluation and allergy testing rarely identifies a cause for chronic hives. 
 
Hives can be incredibly uncomfortable and frustrating.  Hives typically improve with a regimen of antihistamines, regardless of the cause.  For cases of chronic hives that do not respond to antihistamines, alternative treatments are available. A newly approved approach to chronic hives utilizes the medication Xolair (omalizumab). This medication was initially developed for patients suffering from moderate to severe allergic asthma, but has shown to be effective in chronic hives. With your input, your Allergy Partners physician can decide what testing and treatment options are best for you. 

 

 

 

April 24
Intranasal influenza vaccination is well tolerated in egg allergic children with asthma or recurrent wheeze

Nobody likes getting a shot, especially children. However, US health guidelines recommend annual influenza vaccination of children, especially those with asthma, and including those with egg allergy. Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) is an intranasal vaccine administered via the nose licensed for use in children. However, this vaccine contains egg protein and it is currently suggested that it not be used on children with egg allergy. Furthermore, North American guidelines recommend against its use in children with asthma. Thus, asthmatic or egg allergic children receive a traditional flu shot.

In a study recently published online by The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), Turner and colleagues present the results of the SNIFFLE-1 Study.   In this study, 433 doses of LAIV intranasal flu vaccine were administered to 282 children with egg allergy.  Two thirds of the children also had a physician diagnosis of asthma/recurrent wheezing and 41% had experienced a prior anaphylactic (severe allergic) reaction to egg.

 


The study found that influenza vaccination using LAIV was safe in egg-allergic children – including those with a prior history of anaphylaxis – with no systemic allergic manifestations seen. Eight children experienced mild short lived symptoms, which may have been due to an IgE-mediated allergic reaction.  However, noting the intranasal reaction thresholds to egg, the authors suggest these reactions were not likely to have been caused by egg protein and were probably due to other ingredients in the vaccine.

Importantly, in those children with a history of asthma or recurrent wheezing, there was no significant increase in respiratory symptoms requiring medical treatment in the 72 hours following vaccination with LAIV. This suggests that the current guidelines may be unnecessarily over-restrictive in terms of this vaccine’s use in patients with asthma or egg-allergy. This study may help lead to changes in the current guidelines and make an annual flu vaccine more pleasant for kids with asthma and egg allergy.

 

 

 

April 15
Food Allergen Panel Testing Often Results in Misdiagnosis of Food Allergy

Food allergies have become an increasing public health issue. Recent studies now indicate that nearly 1 in 13 children are diagnosed with food allergy. Food allergies are triggered when the immune system make a special type of antibody, called IgE, directed against foods. On re-exposure to the food, the IgE antibody can trigger severe, even life threatening allergic reactions.

 

 
The diagnosis of food allergy is typically done through a combination of a detailed medical history coupled with specific food allergy testing. Classically, such testing is through skin prick testing where a small amount of the food is applied to the skin and the skin is then pricked with a small sterile probe, allowing the liquid to seep under the skin. After about 20 minutes, a hive (a bump similar to a mosquito bite) may form indicating allergy. More recently, a blood based test commonly referred to as RAST or Immunocap testing has grown increasingly popular. Unfortunately, these blood based tests can be overly sensitive and have false positive results. This can lead to misdiagnosis of food allergy which leads to unnecessary food avoidance, unnecessary medication prescriptions, and increased cost.
 
In a recent study in Journal of Pediatrics,  Bird and colleagues at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Dell Children’s Medical Center in Dallas reviewed the charts of 797 patients referred for evaluation of possible food allergy. They selected patients in whom the primary care provider had ordered a standard panel of food-specific IgE tests. Such a panel was done in 284 (35%) of all patients. Of these, only 90 patients (32.8%) had a history that warranted such testing.
 
Diets were altered in 126 of patients based on the initial testing. Of these, 72 did not have histories suggestive of food allergy and all of these individuals were found to not have food allergy. In total, 112 (88.9%) of the 126 patients who were avoiding foods were able to reintroduce at least one food. It was estimated that the cost associated with those patients whose history did not warrant food allergy testing was $79, 412.
 
The diagnosis of food allergy hinges on a detailed history and physical exam. Food-specific IgE testing is a vital tool used to confirm food allergy. This study, however, highlights that panels of food specific IgE tests have little utility as a screening tool. Such panels often result in the over-diagnosis of food allergy. A ‘positive’ test does not automatically translate into clinical food allergy, as a significant proportion of individuals with a positive test are not clinically allergic.
 
All Allergy Partners physicians are Board Certified Allergist-Immunologists. This means that they have undergone two to three years of specialized training in the diagnosis, treatment and management of allergic diseases, including food allergy. They have expertise in the interpretation of food allergy test results and are equipped to offer food challenges which are the definitive test for the diagnosis of food allergy. If you are concerned about food allergy, contact your Allergy Partners physician.
 
Source: Bird JA, Crain M, Varshney P. Food Allergen Panel Testing Often Results in Misdiagnosis of Food Allergy. J Pediatrics 2014:166(1):97-100.
 

 

 

 

April 10
Do I Have a Food Allergy?

Food allergies are due to an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. They affect about one in twenty Americans, with cases occurring at any age, but most commonly in babies and young children. While any food may cause an allergic reaction, eight types of food account for about 90 percent of food allergies: milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish.
 
Symptoms
Symptoms of a food allergy vary significantly from person to person, as does the amount of food needed to trigger an allergic reaction. While most food-related symptoms occur within two hours of ingestion, in some rare cases, the reaction may be delayed by four to six hours or even longer. Common symptoms of a food-related allergic reaction include: digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. The most severe allergic reactions may result in anaphylaxis, which can impair breathing, cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure, and affect heart rate to a fatal degree.
 
Some patients may experience an itching and/or tingling feeling in their mouths after consuming certain fruits, which is referred to as pollen-food allergy syndrome or oral allergy syndrome. For example, patients allergic to birch pollen can have this reaction when eating an apple. In rare cases, pollen-food allergy syndrome can lead to anaphylaxis.
 
Diagnosis
The diagnosis of a food allergy generally requires a thorough medical history of the patient including what and how much you ate, how long it took for symptoms to develop, what symptoms you experienced and how long it lasted. Your doctor may order skin and/or blood tests in making a diagnosis. However,a “positive” result on any one test is not an absolute indication of a food allergy. Allergists rely on their experience to properly interpret the results of tests within the overall context of the patient’s medical history and properly diagnose a food allergy. If you suspect you have a food allergy, talk to your Allergy Partners physician to determine what method of diagnosis is most suitable.
 
Skin Test
In this test, a tiny amount of liquid containing suspected food is placed on the skin of your arms or back. The skin is then pricked with a small sterile probe, allowing the liquid to seep under the skin. After about 20 minutes, a hive (a bump similar to a mosquito bite) may form and will be compared to the bump at the site of the control, where a liquid not containing any allergen is placed.
 
Blood test
A blood test (commonly known as RAST or ImmunoCAP) detects the presence of allergen-specific antibodies known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. Additionally, a relatively new test, called a “component test” can be ordered to gain more specific information and is mostly used for peanut allergies. Blood tests have been used extensively but often are not specifically based on patients’ detailed diet diary. When not properly utilized, the results of a blood test can be very confusing and may lead to unnecessary food restriction. Allergy Partners allergists use their experience to determine when a blood test may be helpful and to properly interpret the results of the blood test.
 
Other Tests
There are a number of non-standardized tests that are advertised as helping diagnose food allergy. These tests include allergen-specific IgG blood tests, antigen leukocyte cellular antibody tests, hair analysis, and applied kinesiology. Their use in the diagnosis of food allergy is not advised.
 
Oral Food Challenge

In an oral food challenge, small increment amounts of food are fed to the patient over a period of a few hours to determine if a reaction occurs. Due to the possibility of a severe reaction, it must be conducted under medical supervision by an experienced doctor and in a facility with emergency medication and equipment on hand. The gold standard for a food challenge is one that is double-blind and placebo-controlled, though it may still have very good diagnostic value when lacking these conditions.

 

 

Conclusion
Food allergies can be challenging and stressful, so knowing what you or your child is eating is an important first step. If you have doubts about a possible food allergy, err on the side of caution until you have a chance to speak with an Allergy Partners physician.
 
 

March 31
Sleep Apnea and Asthma

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and they may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep. As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. More importantly, sleep apnea can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
There is evidence suggesting that a relationship exists between asthma and obstructive sleep apnea. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated if having asthma increased the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea (The Association between Asthma and Risk of Developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea. JAMA 2015: 313 (2):156-164.).
 
This study used a population that consisted of adults who had overnight sleep studies completed at 4 year intervals starting in 1988 (The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study). Asthma and additional information was assessed during these studies through March 2013.
 
The results found that participants with bronchial asthma had a significantly higher incidence of developing obstructive sleep apnea (27%) at their first 4 year follow up interval sleep study, versus 16% of the participants without asthma who developed sleep apnea at that interval. Using all 4 year interval studies, there was also a significantly higher percentage of participants with bronchial asthma who developed obstructive sleep apnea (27% ), versus 17% of non-asthmatic participants who developed obstructive sleep apnea.
 
In summary this study found that preexistent asthma was a risk factor for an asthmatic patient developing clinically relevant obstructive sleep apnea over a 4 year period. It was also found that the longer the time a patient had bronchial asthma, the more likely that the patient would develop obstructive sleep apnea.
 
Therefore, obstructive sleep apnea should be considered in asthmatic patients with symptoms suggestive of sleep apnea, and especially those patients who have a history of long-standing bronchial asthma. Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, choking or gasping while sleeping, daytime sleepiness, or not feeling well rested after sleep. Identifying and treating obstructive sleep apnea in asthmatic patients has been found to be beneficial, since another study has shown that treating obstructive sleep apnea in patients with asthma leads to improvement in asthma symptoms, improved air movement and improved quality of life.
If you think you have a sleep problem, consider keeping a sleep diary for 1 to 2 weeks. Bring the diary with you to your next doctor’s appointment. Write down when you go to sleep, wake up, and take naps. Also write down how much you sleep each night, how alert and rested you feel in the morning, and how sleepy you feel at various times during the day. This information can help your doctor figure out whether you have a sleep disorder.
 

March 18
What is Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)?

SLIT is an alternative method of allergen desensitization in the management of atopic conditions such as asthma and allergic rhinitis, which does not involve a series of injections.  The protocol for SLIT involves an allergist determining a patient’s sensitizing allergens, typically by skin testing, followed by small doses of these allergens placed under the tongue daily in the form of tablets or drops.  This causes a decrease in the body’s natural production of specific allergic antibody, called IgE.

 

 
Though SLIT is widely accepted and standard in Europe, not all SLIT therapy is approved in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  A tablet form of SLIT for patients with grass and ragweed allergy (GRASTEK, ORALAIR, RAGWITEK) has been FDA approved and is currently available for physicians to prescribe.  While yet to be approved by the FDA, sublingual drop therapy formulated by your Allergy Partners physician is available for “off label” use.
 
Does it Work?
There is mounting evidence that SLIT is an effective treatment strategy in the management of allergic conditions.  A recent systematic review in the Journal of the American Medical Association states: “The overall evidence provides a moderate grade level of evidence to support the effectiveness of sublingual immunotherapy for the treatment of allergic rhinitis and asthma, but high-quality studies are still needed to answer questions regarding optimal dosing strategies.”1Though evidence supports SLIT being more efficacious compared to some traditional treatment strategies, it is very clear that subcutaneous injection immunotherapy (allergy shots) is favorable to SLIT in reducing allergy symptoms.
 
What Are the Side Effects?
In general, SLIT is well tolerated.  Patients may have oral itching or mild tongue swelling after the first 3-4 doses.  However, these symptoms typically subside.   Other potential side effects include:  trouble breathing, throat tightness, throat swelling, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, severe stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe flushing of the skin.  As there is risk for anaphylaxis, all patients on SLIT therapy should have access to an epinephrine pen and be trained on its use and the first dose of SLIT is administered in a physician’s office.
 
Is it For Me?
There are certainly advantages to SLIT.  Published data does demonstrate clinical efficacy and you can expect to see improvement in your allergy symptoms.  For patients with busy schedules, SLIT makes immunotherapy less cumbersome as treatment can be given at home.  For children with “needle phobia,” SLIT provides an alternative option to avoid weekly injections.  Although allergy shots are the most efficacious form of immunotherapy, there undoubtedly is a role for SLIT in the management of allergic disease.  Talk to your Allergy Partners physician about whether SLIT is the best option for management of your allergy symptoms. 
 
Reference
1.       Sublingual immunotherapy for the treatment of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and asthma: a systematic review. JAMA. 2013 Mar 27;309(12):1278-88.

 

 

 

March 10
Food Allergy and Product Labeling

Food allergy is estimated to affect 5 to 7% of infants and 1 to 2% of adults. Currently there is no cure for food allergy and patients must adhere to a strict regimen of dietary avoidance of foods to which they are allergic. Despite the best of intentions, accidental exposure to food allergens remains a significant cause of allergic reactions. To avoid such exposure, food allergic patients and their families rely on food package labels to identify possible triggers.

 

The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires packaged foods sold in the United States to clearly list the eight primary food allergens in plain English on the ingredient label. These 8 foods are milk, egg, wheat, soybean, peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. However, for foods that may accidentally contain small amounts of allergens- such as being produced in a factory that handles the allergen- precautionary labels may be applied to food products as well. Such precautionary labeling is neither consistent nor regulated. Food allergic patients have varying levels of tolerance to allergens and such precautionary labels could lead to confusion and unnecessary risk taking behavior.
 
In January, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (January 2015) by the research team led by Clare Mills, PhD of the Institute of Inflammation and Repair at the University of Manchester in the UK.  Researchers sought to better define the threshold doses of 5 major food allergens (peanut, hazelnut, celery, fish and shrimp) in a European population. What researchers were able to demonstrate was that for these foods there is threshold dose below which only 10% of allergic subjects will react. Though more research is needed, such new data could help better identify allergen doses that are safe versus those doses which may trigger a reaction. This information would help improve patient safety through refined product labeling.
 
These new findings highlight how essential it is for patients with suspected food allergy to be evaluated by an allergist who will not only assess but help minimize the risk for future food reactions.

 

References:

1.       “Study identifies levels at which five foods may trigger allergic reactions” Medical News Today. January 2015.
2.       Mills C et al. How much is too much?: Threshold dose distributions for 5 food allergens. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014, published online January 2015, abstract.
 

 

March 03
Preventing Peanut Allergy with Early Exposure

Peanut allergy can result in severe, and at times fatal, allergic reactions. Unfortunately, peanut allergy has become more and more common over the years. A new study, however, gives hope that early interventions may decrease the risk of developing peanut allergy.

  

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that early exposure to peanuts helps to prevent peanut sensitization in high risk children.  The study was performed in response to the significant increase in the incidence of peanut allergy worldwide, especially in westernized countries, such as the United States.  The most recent recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came in 2000, in response to outcomes from infant feeding trials conducted in Europe and the United States.  At that time, the AAP recommended refraining from introduction of peanuts to children until age 3.  Despite this recommendation, the incidence of peanut allergy continues to rise, and in 2008, the AAP retracted its recommendation due to insufficient evidence.  Since that time, multiple observational studies have found that early introduction of peanut protein, as well as cow's milk and egg, result in decreased incidence of these food allergies.  
 
In a new study by Du Toit et al., Learning Early about Peanut Allergy (LEAP), investigators studied over 500 infants at high risk of peanut allergy (severe eczema, egg allergy, or both).  Half of the children were randomly selected to consume peanuts and the other half, to avoid peanuts.  At age 5, the children underwent peanut challenge to determine if they were allergic.  Results indicated that the prevalence of peanut allergy in the peanut-avoidance group was significantly higher at 17.2%, compared to 3.2% in the group that consumed peanuts.
 
The trial went on to compare two groups: one group of infants with skin prick test (SPT) that was initially negative to peanut, and another with mildly positive results (wheal of 1-4mm).  Infants with a wheal of >4mm were excluded from the study (about 10%).  In infants with an initially negative SPT, prevalence of peanut allergy was 13.7% in the avoidance group and 1.9% in the consumption group.  For infants with mildly positive SPT, the prevalence of peanut allergy was 35.3% in the avoidance group and 10.6% in the consumption group.  
 
Although many questions still remain, early testing of infants at high risk for peanut allergy in the first 4-8 months of life, along with early introduction of peanut protein or in-office peanut challenge may have the potential to prevent peanut allergy in the future.  
 
Allergy Partners’ board certified allergists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of food allergies. If you have questions regarding food allergies, contact your local Allergy Partners physician.
 

 

 

 

February 25
The Importance of Using Controller Medicines Daily

Asthma is a condition due to airway inflammation often associated with an allergic component. It is characterized by symptoms that can include chest tightness, cough, shortness of breath and wheezing, which may be intermittent or persistent. Proper diagnosis requires a thorough history, physical examination, appropriate lung function testing and allergy testing.

 
Acute, or severe asthma, can present as a rapid or gradual increase in symptoms resulting in an acute attack or exacerbation. Chronic asthma, or persistent asthma, may present with intermittent symptoms or even nocturnal awakening.
 
Control of asthma is defined as an absence or decrease in asthmatic symptoms and improvement in the quality of life. A 5-question survey known as the ACT defines uncontrolled asthma on the basis of a score of less than 19 out of a possible 25.
 

The key to controlling asthma is through the regular use of asthma controller medications such as inhaled corticosteroids, antileukotrienes, or combination inhalers containing inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting bronchodilators. These drugs treat the underlying cause of asthma, namely airway inflammation. They are most often delivered by inhalers with the exception of the antileukotrienes, which are taken orally. Short-acting bronchodilators such as albuterol, are considered relievers and are meant to be used on an as-needed basis or before exercise.  The need for a reliever inhaler more than 2 days a week or 2 nights a month is a sign of poorly controlled asthma.

 
Recent studies have demonstrated adherence to asthma medications averages only 50%. In other words, one-half of patients do not take their controller medicine regularly. This is extremely important, as improved adherence is associated with less asthma attacks and an improved quality of life and more symptom-free days. Thus non-adherence is associated with a lack of asthma control, poor health outcomes and increased costs.
 
The reasons for the lack of regular use of asthma control drugs are varied. The cost, co-pays and coverage for these drugs varies widely and high costs can be a barrier for many people. Some patients are worried about ‘being dependent’ on daily medications while many people simply find it hard to remember to take medication once or twice a day. Additionally, correct inhaler technique is vital to ensure that the medicine, when taken, is effective.
 
The physician-patient relationship is vital in improving adherence. Understanding, trust and mutual respect are absolutely necessary between a patient and physician. For example, patients should understand the difference between an oral steroid like prednisone  and an inhaled corticosteroid in terms of their safety and efficacy. Patients should feel confident in why they are taking certain medications and in how they are taking it. Regular follow up visits are vital. Asthma can have fluctuations that require adjusting therapy up or down depending on the situation. Thus prescribing or changing an asthma regime requires feedback to insure safety, efficacy and compliance. Adjustments in dosing, if needed,  can be made on subsequent visits, usually 4-6 weeks apart, or as long as 90 days.
 
Newly developed electronic monitoring devices have the potential to be a very important asset to remind and reinforce with patients when to take their medication. Such devices may even provide vocal reminders that the medicines are due. Documenting the regular use of these medications is of great use to physicians as well as to patients.
 

In addition to devices that remind us to take medication, the future of asthma therapy will no doubt include lung function peak flow monitoring via the smart phone. This will allow both patients and physicians to get a much fuller picture of an individual’s asthma and allow far greater individualized care.

 

Managing asthma successfully hinges upon using controller medications, such as inhaled steroid, regularly. Regular use improves symptoms and quality of life and reduces the risk of asthma exacerbations. For many, however, adherence can be challenging. Effecting behavior change is quite difficult and time consuming. It requires reinforcement and even such devices as peak expiratory flow meters to be used by the patient at home. Technology should lead the way in helping patients and physicians alike improve asthma control.  In recent years we have all seen tremendous advances in technology that have not only made our lives better, but improved the quality of our lives. Such an outcome would be welcome in the care of our asthmatic patients. As Leaders in Allergy and Asthma Care, Allergy Partners is actively working to bring this technology to our patients.

 
 
 

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