Allergist Spotlight: Dr. Angela Ahuja Malik and Allergy Prevention
This month, we spoke with Dr. Angela Ahuja Malik of Allergy and Asthma Specialists of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Dr. Malik grew up in Mississippi, attended the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, and completed her pediatrics residency there in 2004. In 2007, she completed her fellowship in asthma, allergy, and immunology at the number one respiratory hospital in the country, the National Jewish Health Center in Denver, CO.
Dr. Malik has published in the field of atopic dermatitis and has also contributed to textbooks covering childhood development and the immune system. Board certified in pediatrics and in adult and pediatric allergy and immunology, Dr. Malik is a member of the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology, the American College of Allergy and Immunology, and the Massachusetts Medical Society.
In addition to her career accomplishments, Dr. Malik also brings her experience as the mother of a young son with chronic eczema and multiple food allergies to her practice.
Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your history as an allergist.
"I am from Mississippi, and I always had a lot of allergies as a child. When I was in college, I finally went to see an allergist. The doctor, Dr. Walcott, saw me studying for the MCAT, the entrance exam for medical school. He asked about my interests and offered to let me see patients with him, to shadow him. When applying to medical school, it's always a plus if you have some sort of clinical background, so in 1994, as a sophomore in college, I began seeing patients with him once a week.
"Dr. Walcott had a background in pediatrics and was from around the same area I was from. I ended up at the same medical school he attended, the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, and continued to see patients with him all the way through my residency. He was a wonderful mentor, and I learned so much from him. My interest in becoming an allergist developed from my experience with him.
"For my fellowship in allergy, asthma, and immunology, I attended the National Jewish Health Center in Denver, and trained there from 2005 to 2007. I joined my current practice in the summer of 2007."
How big is your practice? Is there a particular type of allergy or treatment your practice specializes in?
"Our practice sees all kinds of patients, both adults and children. We see those with food allergies; eczema; skin allergies; asthma; immune deficiencies; anaphylaxis; and angioedema, a type of swelling that involves the immune system. We also treat those with allergic rhinitis, both seasonal and year-round, sinus infections, and hives. These are the most common ailments we see.
"Our practice has four physicians, and we stay very busy. I alone see about 3,000 patients a year."
What do you love about your job?
"I love the interaction that I have with my patients. I see all age groups, so I never know what I'm going to get when I walk into an exam room. I also sometimes get to see members of the same family, like the grandmother, mother, and child, for example. This gives my work a small town, community feel, which I love. I also enjoy seeing people that aren't doing so well, treating them, and helping them feel so much better."
If you could suggest one thing for your patients what would it be?
"For my patients who suffer from asthma and allergies, I emphasize preventative care as well as maintenance. I help them learn things that they can do to keep from having issues in first place. I want them to know how to prevent exacerbation of symptoms and flare-ups whenever possible."
What is your favorite allergy relief product?
"This depends on what symptoms someone is having, which is so personal, I can't always predict what I'd recommend. But for hives, antihistamines are great. Antihistamines are also wonderful for seasonal allergies. Some patients require prescription eye drops or nasal sprays.
"In keeping with my philosophy of prevention whenever possible, I often tell my patients to take their medications before symptoms start, like a couple weeks before spring allergy season, for example. Other preventive measures include keeping the windows closed in the morning when pollen counts are highest. For those with dust mite allergies, I recommend allergy covers, decreasing humidity, and washing sheets in hot water. It's best to avoid what you're allergic to, but this is not always feasible."
Where do you see allergy treatment going in the near future? In the distant future?
"We do allergy shots, which are great for treating those who have seasonal or year-round allergies or food allergies. Shots are the closest thing we have to a cure. In the very near future, instead of injections, I think we'll see oral, sublingual tablets. This treatment is approved in Europe, and will likely be the next step in allergy treatment in the United States as well."
Is there anything else you'd like to add or discuss?
"So many people are affected by allergies: Food allergies are becoming more and more prevalent and asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases. There are so many people whose symptoms are affecting their daily lives, but with treatment, their symptoms can been kept under control. They will have fewer flare-ups, less need for medication, and minimal trips to the ER. I feel like those with food allergies should for sure by treated by an allergist. We are able to do skin tests - which are the most reliable - that other physicians can't. These tests can also be challenging to interpret, but an allergist can do that. Allergists can definitely improve allergy sufferers' quality of life."