Bring patients to your practice with proactive patient education about allergy testing and new treatments
It’s almost upon us—that time of year when more than 50 million Americans suffer through their days with tissues and Benadryl at the ready: spring allergy season. Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. with an annual cost in excess of $18 billion, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Yes, the sneezing, watery eyes, and stuffy, runny, or itchy nose that plagues so many people in the spring is typically allergic rhinitis. However, patients may not know what exactly is causing their allergies, how to get relief, or that ENTs can help. It’s your job to get the word out to patients, and now’s the time.
New treatments for allergy sufferers
It’s a tough truth that climate change has made allergies worse. “Botanists say that for birch and ragweed, with increasing average temperatures, the amount of pollen produced is increasing,” Sandra Lin, M.D., an otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins University, told the Washington Post. “In addition, allergy seasons are longer and plant distributions are broadening and moving northward.”
Educate patients about new OTC allergy treatments that are less sedating and more effective, such as nasal steroids and second-generation antihistamines.
The good news is that there are new treatments for people with seasonal allergies besides the long-used sedating antihistamines like Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton. Tell your patients that doctors now prefer nasal steroids, such as Flonase and Nasacort, for over-the-counter allergy treatment. Dr. Lin, who co-wrote the clinical practice guidelines for the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery in 2015, recommends that for moderate to severe seasonal allergies, the most effective treatments are nasal steroids, sprayed directly into the nose and used daily. Advise patients to stick with them for a couple of weeks, since they can take time to work.
If patients prefer a pill to a nasal spray, let them know that “the second-generation antihistamines—such as Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec” are an option, said Dr. Lin. However, warn patients that they are not as effective at reducing nasal congestion as the other OTC options, and versions that combine the antihistamine with the decongestant pseudoephedrine can cause more side effects, such as blood pressure problems, difficulty sleeping, and urinary retention.
How ENTs can help when OTC meds don’t
Here’s a message to share on social media, your web site, and in your practice marketing materials: if someone is relying on both an OTC nasal spray and an antihistamine to make it through allergy season, they may get better results from seeing an ENT. “If you’re using two medications every day, that’s a sign that you should see a doctor. They may have a better solution for you,” allergist and pediatrician Janna Tuck, M.D., told the Washington Post.If someone is relying on both an OTC nasal spray and an antihistamine to make it through allergy season, they may get better results from seeing an ENT. Click To Tweet
Patients may not know that if OTC medications aren’t working for them, a doctor can perform allergy testing and more effective treatments.
One reason patients may not be getting relief is that they don’t know exactly what they’re allergic to. Tell them that only a doctor can determine this with a skin test. While pollen is a frequent cause of spring allergies, it isn’t the only one. Other common allergens include: mold, pet dander, and airborne pollutants, which are around all year. This video gives patients a clear explanation of the pain-free allergy testing process a doctor will perform:
Some patients may respond best to allergy shots. You may need to explain what immunotherapy is and how it works, and that it’s available in tablets and under-the-tongue drops, as well as shots. This video can help:
When surgery is the solution
In some cases, patients may not realize that structural problems with the sinuses themselves could exacerbate allergy symptoms and discomfort. ENTs can explain that sinus surgery such as a balloon sinuplasty helps some patients by opening small sinus passages and allowing them to drain.
Only an ENT can determine if sinus surgery is the right solution for a patient; be proactive about spreading this message to patients.
Be proactive about reaching out to current and prospective patients about allergies. If patients are suffering, you can be sure that they’re online looking for help and open to solutions from a doctor. Don’t miss the opportunity to welcome the sniffling, sneezing masses to your ENT practice this spring!