Allergy Testing and Treatments
Allergies are associated with a wide range of symptoms, from runny noses, nasal congestion, sneezing; itchy red eyes; and itchy ears, to the less obvious problems like a tickle in the throat, cough, asthma, wheezing, shortness of breath, hives, hyperactivity, eczema, bee sting reactions, and more. Fatigue is also common in allergy season.
People develop allergy problems because of an overactive immune system. When an allergen is introduced into the system, the body releases histamine. In the allergic person, the body releases too much histamine and these patients are left with allergic symptoms.
Generally, your history of allergy problems is the most important information that the doctor will evaluate when you are seeking allergy treatment.
Allergy shots are extremely helpful for reducing symptoms in patients who have continuing symptoms, despite medication. They also help those who experience fatigue due to allergies and for those who have complications like sinusitis.
Allergy shots are commonly used by patients who would rather not use drugs, as the shots are made up of an extract of the things that the patient is allergic to. In addition, allergy shots have also been shown to be effective for people with cat allergies, while avoidance is still the best treatment.
The shots are given with a very small needle and most people don’t even feel them. Allergy shots work using the body’s natural immune processes over a period of time, so try to be patient.
When patients have allergies, which can be due to environmental agents, foods or any number of other agents, allergy skin testing can be very helpful in pinpointing the exact cause of your symptoms.
Some allergists use a blood (RAST) test to determine allergy causes, some use a scratch skin test, but we prefer skin (intradermal) testing (it has been shown to be the most reliable form of testing) done with a variety of different agents commonly known to cause allergies. These agents may include dust, dust mites, molds, trees, grasses, weeds, animal dander, cockroaches, and foods.
Intradermal testing entails using a very small needle and injecting tiny amounts of these agents just under the first layers of skin. After waiting a short period of time, the allergic reaction can be detected based on the size of the welt and size of the redness at the injection site. The size of the reaction will then be used to determine whether an allergy exists.
Q: What are allergies?
A: Allergies are an immune system over-reaction to a commonly occurring substance.
Q: How can I tell if I have allergies or a cold?
A: Symptoms of allergies and colds can be similar. Here’s how to tell the difference:
• Duration of Symptoms – Colds generally last 7 to 10 days. Allergy symptoms can continue for much longer periods of time.
• Mucus – Allergic discharge is thin, watery and clear. Cold discharge is thick and yellow or green.
• Onset of Symptoms – Colds come on gradually.
• Sneezing – Colds can make you sneeze, but sneezing is a more common allergic reaction, particularly if you sneeze more than two or three times in a row.
• Fever – If you have a fever along with symptoms, you probably have a cold.
• Seasonal Symptoms – Colds are more common in the winter. Allergies are more common in spring or fall.
Q: Do children outgrow allergies?
A: It is more likely that children will develop more allergies as they grow up rather than grow out of them. However, usually by the age three, children will outgrow most TypeI food allergies.
Q: What plants cause the most common pollen allergies?
A: Plants that do not bear flowers or fruit cause most of the problems. Their pollen can be blown through the air for miles.
Troublesome plants include:
• Weeds- Ragweed, sagebrush, redroot pigweed, lamb’s quarters, goosefoot and tumbleweed.
• Grasses- Timothy grass, Kentucky blue grass, Bermuda grass, redtop grass, orchard grass, sweet vernal grass, fescue, perennial rye, and velvet grass.
• Trees- Oak, elm, birch, ash, maple, alder, hazel, hickory, pecan, juniper, cedar, cypress, and sequoia.
Q: How are allergies diagnosed?
A: Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you thoroughly. Then your doctor may choose to diagnose your allergies with either a skin test (intradermal), or a blood test (RAST).
Q: How are allergies treated?
A: Once an allergy is diagnosed, allergies are first treated by avoiding the allergen. If avoidance is not possible, the doctors may prescribe allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots).
In addition to the allergy shots, prescription medications may be necessary.
Q: Do I need to see a doctor if I think I have allergies?
A: Yes. It is important to see your doctor to determine if what you have is in fact an allergy or another medical condition. Proper diagnosis is essential for determining proper course of treatment. It is of utmost importance to determine if you have allergies, as untreated allergies can lead to more serious conditions such as sinusitis and asthma.
Q: What are the symptoms of an inhalant allergy?
A: Generally, the symptoms include: sneezing, headaches, watering eyes, itchy & red eyes, gritty feeling in the eyes, blocked nose, loss of smell or taste, blocked sinuses (sinusitis), and runny nose.