Millions of Americans suffer from allergies. Each spring, the headlines proclaim it to be the worst allergy season ever. In fact, there might be some truth to this, according to allergist Bryan Martin, D.O., president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
“Unfortunately, it’s true that in the past few years, the amount of pollen in the air during spring allergy season seems to have gotten worse.” This is partly due to climate change and longer growing seasons, which have increased pollen production.
Patients have a tendency to group all sorts of symptoms under the umbrella of “allergies,” however. Many will try to self-medicate with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies. Many people may not know whether a doctor can help or what type of specialist they should see. Proactive patient education can help your patients better understand allergies, and why they should come to your practice for relief.
Let patients know how ENTs can help with allergies
Many patients don’t realize how much allergies can vary in terms of sources and symptoms. In some cases, they may not even know that their symptoms are caused by an allergy. They may even be unaware that an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) or eye care professional can help them.
For those reasons, it’s important to be proactive in your patient education about allergies and what you can offer patients who suffer from them. A short, informative video branded with your practice’s name in an email newsletter can help start the conversation about allergies:
If you’re an ENT doctor, explain to your patients that nasal allergies, also referred to as seasonal allergies or “hay fever,” may be to blame for common symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, and scratchy throat, according to The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. Let them know how an ENT can help determine the substances causing their discomfort (through allergy testing) and develop a plan to manage their allergies (such as immunotherapy, or “allergy shots”).
Lastly, while you may be familiar with the differences between medical specialties and types of practitioners, patients may not be. They will never Google “otolaryngic allergist” if they don’t know that exists or what it means. Explain to them that as an ENT—who may also be an otolaryngic allergist—you are uniquely qualified to help them with all ear, nose, and throat issues which may be caused by or coexist with allergies, such as chronic sinusitis, chronic ear infections, or enlarged adenoids or tonsils.
Why ocular allergy sufferers are going undiagnosed and untreated
Patients also may not know that other, less common allergy symptoms include eye irritations, skin problems such as eczema, and even breathing problems like asthma. Ocular allergies may be isolated, and many patients who suffer from them will even state they do not have allergies, said Renée Reeder, O.D., in an article on the website of the American Optometric Association. Optometrists and ophthalmologists should let patients know that they can determine if their complaints of dryness, watering, or itching eyes are caused by allergies or another condition, such as dry eye disease.
When one eye care practice first began to offer in-office allergy testing, they found that up to 80 percent of patients who reported allergic ocular symptoms had never been allergy tested, and that of those who had, most had no recollection of their specific allergens and were not prescribed treatment, as reported in the Review of Optometry. While an estimated 24 million people suffer from ocular allergies, “such data demonstrates how this segment of the population has been grossly under-recognized and undertreated, while offering an incredible opportunity for the kind of practice growth beneficial to practices and patients alike,” wrote the doctors. Educate patients in your eye care practice about the various allergy testing and treatments you can offer them.
Clear up patients’ misperceptions about allergies
Once you’ve educated patients on the basics of allergies and positioned yourself as a partner in their care, you can continue to be a source of information about allergies—and clear up misinformation. For example, many patients know to monitor daily pollen counts and keep their windows shut during allergy season. They may know that showering after spending time outside can rinse away allergens, and that artificial tears can help flush allergens out of the eyes.
However, there are still many misconceptions patients have about allergies, such as that OTC medications are sufficient. While the majority of allergy sufferers do turn to drugstore cures for relief, a recent study found that only one-third of those surveyed were very or extremely satisfied with OTC oral allergy medications, compared to 50 percent who were very or extremely satisfied with prescription treatment. Emphasize to patients that only doctors can identify exactly what they are allergic to, and prescribe the most appropriate medication to treat their symptoms.
Many patients also mistakenly believe that allergy medication should be taken when symptoms appear. While people generally think of spring as starting in April or May, seasonal allergy symptoms actually begin earlier. Start talking to patients about allergies early in the season, and encourage them to take their prescription allergy medications two to three weeks before their symptoms normally appear to alleviate their suffering.
Don’t wait until patients bring it up to talk about allergies. If they don’t realize that allergies are causing their symptoms or that you can help, you’re missing an opportunity to help your existing patients and bring new ones to your practice.
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