Allergy Alert

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The Free Clinic of Central Virginia provides allergy treatments to patients who otherwise could not afford care.

Maybe you have endured dry itchy eyes and a runny nose or perhaps you have experienced a life-threatening anaphylaxis reaction. Either way, allergies affect a huge number of people every year. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), allergies are one of the most common chronic conditions worldwide.

The Free Clinic of Central Virginia is celebrating its 30th year of providing services, which includes treatments for all types of allergies. >>
“The mission of the Free Clinic of Central Virginia is to provide primary medical, dental, pharmacy, and health education services to those in Central Virginia who do not have the resources to obtain these basic healthcare services,” said Glenn Dillon, planned giving and major gifts coordinator. “Over the 30 years we’ve served, we’ve actually treated over 30 thousand individuals.”

If the medical staff at the Free Clinic is unable to provide treatment, they will refer patients to specialists in the community who partner with them. Although the clinic has 25 paid employees, they rely heavily on their 820 volunteers. Aside from a small number of paid medical personnel, the clinic has over 300 volunteer physicians, along with other medical professionals including physicians, dentists, nurses, nurse practitioners, dental hygienists and assistants, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, nutritionists, health educators and business professionals who help make the Free Clinic work.

“We couldn’t survive without our volunteer doctors,” Dillon said. In order to be treated at the Free Clinic you must either be underinsured or have no insurance at all, with an income less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

“Here at the Free Clinic we do provide medical care and treatment, which includes dispensing of medications, for all types of allergies,” Dillon said.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) explains that common symptoms of allergies include watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, a rash or hives, and more serious symptoms such as trouble breathing and swelling in your mouth or throat.

“If you suspect you have an allergy because of significant symptoms, you should see your primary care provider who will prescribe an antihistamine and possibly a steroid nasal spray,” said Sylvia Smith, medical clinic coordinator at the Free Clinic. “You may be referred to an allergist if symptoms do not improve.”

When diagnosing allergies, doctors typically review the patient’s personal medical history, give a physical, and do additional tests to identify specific allergens.

The AAFA states on their website: “Good allergy treatment is based on your medical history and the severity of your symptoms. It can include three different treatment strategies: avoidance of allergens, medication options and/or immunotherapy (a treatment to train your immune system not to overreact).”

What exactly are allergies? Our immune systems are designed to protect us from invading organisms, which is good. However, when you have an allergy, your immune system mistakes the substance as an invader, causing the immune system to overreact and produce Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. When IgE antibodies are created, they travel to the cells that release histamine, which causes an allergic reaction. The AAAAI states that the most common allergies include pollen, dust, food, insect stings, animal dander, mold, medications and latex.

“The most common types of allergies that are seen during the spring are actually grasses,” Smith said. “Most people think it is tree pollen, but tree pollen is actually too big to get into the nostril. Grasses have a much smaller pollen.”

Surprisingly, allergies are becoming more common. The AAFA concludes that as many as 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children in the United States alone are affected by allergies. In the Central Virginia region, there has also been an increase in the number of allergy cases, partially due to tick bites.

“Alpha Galactose starts in the spring with tick bites,” Smith said. “This is an allergy to meats of animals with hooves after having been bitten by a tick. Once you are diagnosed with Alpha Gal it normally takes a year for the levels to return close to normal so you can return to eating meats of hoofed animals.”

If you suspect you have an allergy, and meet the requirements to become a patient at the Free Clinic, you can call them at (434) 847-5866 to make an appointment. Also, visit them online at www.freeclinicva.org to learn more about their mission and services.


By Megan L. Horst

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