Local doctor improves quality of life for patients and spreads allergy awareness

By: Brynn Rader, Woodlands Online
| Published 04/12/2019


THE WOODLANDS, TX -- Pollen, pets, pollution and food triggers allergy responses in the immune systems of millions of people each day. Symptoms, which range from mild to life-threatening, greatly impact the quality of life for those who suffer. Doctor Anna George at The Woodlands Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center arms her patients with tools to fight back and regain daily enjoyment.

Doctor Anna George at The Woodlands Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center: a wealth of knowledge for our community

Dr. George and her family relocated to The Woodlands in 2015 from Colorado. As a pediatric doctor, she enjoyed treating children with chronic diseases. Dr. George wanted to offer continuity of care to her patients and be free to see children as well as adults. This desire to serve entire families coupled with the intrigue of the ever-changing aspect of allergy and immunology caused her to pursue this field.

The Woodlands welcomed the opening of Dr. George’s practice, The Woodlands Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center, in December 2017. Dr. George and her staff of seven employees actively educate and assist patients in identifying and treating a wide range of allergy and immunology issues. Describing themselves as “a boutique powerhouse of a practice,” those in the center proudly offer services others in the area don’t.

Cast your fears aside when headed in to receive allergy testing at The Woodlands Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center. They perform the skin prick allergy testing without the use of needles. Adults and children with eczema or suspected allergic contact dermatitis benefit from patch testing with Dr. George. Patch testing determines if some specific chemical being used may trigger the inflammation.

Texas warmth and moisture produce conditions ripe for allergy issues twelve months a year. Due to high pollen counts and ozone pollution, allergy problems touch the lives of more and more people each year.

Of the multitude of allergy and asthma sufferers, many don’t even recognize they’re being affected. With symptoms like frequent illness, coughing, headaches, sneezing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, rashes, skin issues and digestive problems, allergies reveal themselves in many ways. It’s easy to see why identifying the cause should be a priority.

According to Dr. George, “15 million Americans have food allergies, a serious medical condition. Every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER. Food allergies now affect 1 in 13 children as the number of people with food allergies is rising - a 50% increase among children between 1997 and 2011.”

The Eight Most Common Food Allergens:
- Milk
- Egg
- Peanut
- Tree Nuts
- Soy
- Wheat
- Fish
- Shellfish

The Woodlands Allergy Center treats food allergies with more than just food avoidance. They aim to give patients a lifetime of freedom from food fear and stress. Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is a medical treatment guided by a board-certified allergist. “OIT re-trains the patient’s immune system to tolerate food proteins through regular eating of small amounts of food over a period of time,” Dr. George said.

Offering the gift of OIT to those in the community with allergies rewards Dr. George with such delight. “It is an incredible feeling as a provider and as a mother to know that another child is free from something that was once life-threatening,” Dr. George said. “Every child that completes OIT receives a certificate and has their picture put on our graduate wall. On those graduation days, these families are freed from the stress, tears, emergency situations and hardships that once controlled their life due to food allergies.”

A staggering 20-30 percent of the population struggles with food intolerances, states Dr. George. Food intolerances are different from food allergies because they are more common and not life-threatening. “Intolerances to food are typically diagnosed with a good history and a food elimination diet,” Dr. George said. “Examples of food intolerances include dairy, eggs, gluten, caffeine, salicylates, amines, FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols), sulfites, fructose, aspartame, MSG, food coloring, yeast, and sugar alcohols.”

If you don’t personally suffer from seasonal allergies, chances are you know someone who does. Treating this common affliction and enabling patients to live as symptom-free as possible is a specialty at The Woodlands Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center.

Tips from Dr. George in dealing with seasonal allergies:

- Schedule an appointment with Dr. George. There are many medications available for the treatment of seasonal allergies. Allergy medications work best when they are started before the pollen levels begin to rise.

- Be aware of pollen counts. Pay attention to daily reports on local pollen counts. On days when pollen counts are high, use your air conditioner and keep your windows and doors in your home closed to keep pollen out.

- Limit your exposure. Limit how much time you spend outside when pollen counts are high. Pollen counts are typically high during a warm, dry and windy day as well as mid-morning and early evening. If you do spend time outside, when you return home, remove the clothes that you have been wearing, place them in the washer, and then shower to rinse the pollen from your hair and body. Nasal saline rinses such as Neti pot are also very helpful in rinsing pollen out of nasal passages.

- Use HEPA Filters. High-efficient particulate air (HEPA) filters are effective in removing most pollen from outside air. Use them inside your home and in the car.

Early life exposure to certain allergens can either help or hinder the likelihood of developing allergies later in life, according to Dr. George. In the case of dust mites, research indicates that reducing exposure in early life by means of dust mite covers, lower humidity, fewer carpets and less upholstered furniture will help guard against developing issues. Dr. George recommends avoiding tobacco smoke exposure during pregnancy and childhood and advises mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least four to six months. These precautions provide children with a better chance of remaining asthma-free.

The opposite though seems to be the case with food allergies. New information points to early life exposure to different foods as being beneficial. “Our advice regarding food introduction to infants has changed in recent years based on food allergy studies,” Dr. George said. “We no longer recommend waiting with top allergic foods (such as peanut or egg or shellfish) till a child is a certain age. We advise most parents to feed their 4-6-month-old children early and without restrictions. If there is [a] high level of food allergies in the family or significant eczema in the infant, then please contact your allergist regarding potential skin testing before trying the top eight foods.”

Many misconceptions exist regarding allergens. Dr. George, a wealth of information, shares her knowledge to dispel some of them.

Common Misconceptions followed by truths from Dr. George:

- Blood tests are the best way to determine food allergies.
Actually, 50- 60 percent of blood tests will give a false positive result when it comes to food allergies. An oral food challenge may be needed to confirm true sensitization.

- Food allergies are uncommon.
According to the Food Allergy Research and Education Organization, 15 million people in the United States suffer from a food allergy. Even more surprising is that 1 in 13 kids has a food allergy.

- Penicillin allergies are common.
You might think you're allergic to penicillin just like 1 in 10 adults who claim to be but don't be so sure. In a study done at the Cleveland Clinic, 21 of 24 patients who said that they were allergic to penicillin received negative results when they were given a skin test.

- Allergies are for life.
Some people develop their first allergies as they get older; on the other hand, some children may outgrow their allergies.

- People who are allergic to shellfish can’t have dye with CT scans.
Some people believe that their shellfish allergy means they should avoid a computerized tomography scan with a dye or contrast, which contains iodine. This is a myth. Shellfish also contains iodine, but studies show that people who are allergic to shellfish are intolerant of specific proteins, not iodine.

- Babies shouldn't be given allergenic foods before they turn one.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends exactly the opposite. They claim that giving babies food like peanut butter, fish, and eggs when they're four to six months old might actually help prevent future food allergies.

- Allergic reactions come from allergens.
You can actually blame your immune system for those pesky hives. Once your body inhales, eats or comes into contact with an allergen, the immune system misidentifies it as a harmful substance. Then it makes antibodies which attack the allergen, so the allergen isn't attacking your body. It's the other way around.

- You know how you'll react to an allergen.
Allergies, especially to food, are unpredictable. Someone who usually has a minor reaction (such as hives) to an allergen is still at risk of having a more serious reaction (like anaphylaxis) in the future.

- Animal hair is an allergen.
If you're allergic to an animal, it's probably their dander, saliva or urine that's causing your reaction. A truly hypoallergenic pet doesn’t exist, even if the animal is hairless. Therefore, choosing between a short-haired or long-haired pet probably will not make much difference.

Nutrition and healthy living are priorities for Dr. George. By sharing her knowledge with the community, Dr. George is helping others live healthier and happier lives too. The Woodlands Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center is located in the beautiful Creekside Village Green. Though allergies on the rise, The Woodlands residents are in good hands when under the skilled care of Dr. George.

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