Have you found yourself with a case of perpetual sniffles or fits of coughing? You may have allergies, which is common for many people. However, allergies can become problematic. If this is the case, consider allergy testing. What exactly is an allergy and how do you know if you need testing? The experts at Allergyfyi.org are here to help.
ALLERGIES AND ALLERGY TESTING
One marvel of the human organism is that it defends itself against harmful invaders such as viruses or other pathogens, but sometimes the defenses are too aggressive and harmless substances such as dust, molds or pollen can make the body identify them as dangerous. Your immune system overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE).
These antibodies go to cells that release chemicals causing an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction may occur anywhere in the body, but usually appears in the nose, eyes, lungs, lining of the stomach, sinuses, throat, and skin. These are places where the special immune system cells get stationed to fight off incoming invaders whether inhaled, swallowed or contacted with the skin. Allergic reactions can range from annoying sniffles and sneezing to a life-threatening response called anaphylaxis.
Asthma and allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic factors. While it’s true that asthma and allergies are more common in children, they can occur for the first time at any age. Sometimes allergy symptoms start in childhood, vanish for years and start up again during adult life. Although the exact genetic factors are not understood, there is a hereditary tendency to asthma and allergies. In susceptible people, factors such as hormones, stress, smoke, perfume or other environmental irritants may play a role.
There are many allergic conditions which may warrant individuals get allergy testing, which we describe for you here.
ALLERGIC RHINITIS (HAY FEVER)
Allergic rhinitis is a general term used to describe the allergic reactions that take place in the nose. Symptoms may include sneezing, congestion, runny nose, and itching of the nose, the eyes and/or the roof of the mouth. Triggered by pollens or outdoor molds, during the Spring, Summer, or Fall, it’s sometimes called “hay fever.” When it’s a year-round problem, exposure to house dust mites, household pets, indoor molds or allergens might cause it at school or in the workplace.
Asthma symptoms occur when airway muscle spasms block the flow of air to the lungs and/or the linings of the bronchial tubes causing them to become inflamed. Excess mucus may clog the airways. Characterized by labored or restricted breathing, asthma attacks cause a tight feeling in the chest, coughing and/or wheezing. Sometimes a chronic cough is the only symptom. Asthma trouble can cause only mild discomfort or it can cause life-threatening attacks in which breathing stops altogether.
ATOPIC AND CONTACT DERMATITIS/HIVES/SKIN ALLERGIES
Atopic and contact dermatitis, eczema, and hives are skin conditions that allergens and other irritants can cause. The reaction may take hours or days to develop. The most common allergic causes of rashes are medicines, insect stings, foods, animals, and chemicals used at home or work. Emotional stress may aggravate allergies.
Anaphylaxis is a rare, potentially fatal, allergic reaction that affects many parts of the body at the same time. The trigger may be an insect sting, a food (such as peanuts) or a medication. Symptoms may include:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- A dangerous drop in blood pressure
- Redness of the skin and/or hives
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the throat and/or tongue
- Loss of consciousness.
WHAT IS AN ALLERGY TEST?
Allergy testing helps to find allergies to things you eat, touch, or breathe in. They are usually skin or blood tests, but there are other types. Allergists perform allergy testing. These physicians specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and other allergic conditions. They train specifically to identify the factors that trigger asthma or allergies. Allergists help people treat or prevent their allergy problems.
Different allergens bother different people, so your allergist will determine which test is right for you. Regardless of the test, an allergist will first perform a physical examination and ask questions about your symptoms to determine if it warrants allergy testing. If you have allergy symptoms, you may get relief from self-help steps and over-the-counter drugs. If these steps do not help your symptoms, then it is time to see your physician. If your medical history suggests that you have an allergy, your doctor might refer you to an allergist or immunologist for testing.
A skin test, also called a puncture or scratch test, is the most common kind of allergy test. Skin gets pricked with a needle that has a tiny amount of something you might be allergic to. It checks for immediate allergic reactions to 40 different substances at once. Typically, skin tests identify allergies to pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites and foods. They may also test for:
- Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
- Allergic asthma
- Dermatitis (eczema)
- Food allergies
- Penicillin allergy
- Bee venom allergy
- Latex allergy
In adults, they usually do the testing on the forearm. They may test children on the upper back. Allergy skin tests aren’t painful. The needles (lancets) used barely penetrate the skin’s surface. After cleaning the test site with alcohol, the nurse draws small marks on your skin and applies a drop of allergen extract next to each mark. He or she then uses a lancet to prick the extracts into the skin’s surface. They use new lancets for each allergen.
About 15 minutes after the skin pricks, the nurse observes your skin for signs of allergic reactions. If you are allergic to a substance tested, you’ll develop a raised, red, itchy bump (wheal) that may look like a mosquito bite. A nurse will then measure the bump’s size. After the nurse records the results, he or she will clean your skin with alcohol to remove the marks.
This test involves drawing blood, so results are not available as rapidly as with skin tests. IgE blood tests get used when skin tests might be unsafe or won’t work, such as if you are taking certain medications, or have a skin condition that may interfere with skin testing.
In these tests, a tiny amount of an allergen is inhaled or taken by mouth. Done mainly with potential food or medication allergies, it is very important that challenge tests get supervised by a physician with specialized training and experience, such as an allergist.
SKIN INJECTION TEST
You may need this form of allergy testing that uses a needle to inject a small amount of allergen extract just under the skin on your arm (intradermal test), and you watch the injection site after about 15 minutes for signs of an allergic reaction. Your doctor may recommend this test to check for an allergy to venom from an insect or penicillin.
Patch testing shows whether a particular substance is causing allergic skin irritation (contact dermatitis). Patch tests can detect delayed allergic reactions, which can take several days to develop. Patch tests don’t use needles like the skin test. During a patch test, your skin gets exposed to 20 to 30 extracts of substances that can cause contact dermatitis. These can include latex, medications, fragrances, preservatives, hair dyes, metals, and resins. You wear the patches on your arm or back for 48 hours. During this time, avoid bathing and activities that cause heavy sweating.
TEN SIGNS YOU NEED AN ALLERGY TEST
The following are ten signs you need to know to determine if you need an allergy test:
- Your allergies are causing symptoms such as chronic sinus infections, nasal congestion or difficulty breathing.
- Experiencing hay fever or other allergy symptoms several months out of the year.
- Antihistamines and over-the-counter medications do not control your allergy symptoms or create unacceptable side effects, such as drowsiness.
- Asthma or allergies are interfering with your ability to carry on normal day-to-day activities.
- Asthma or allergies decrease the quality of your life
- Experiencing warning signs of serious asthma such as:
- You sometimes have to struggle to catch your breath.
- Wheezing or coughing frequently, especially at night or after exercise.
- Frequently shortness of breath or feel tightness in your chest.
- Previous asthma diagnosis and you have frequent asthma attacks even though you are taking asthma medication.
Allergy testing by an allergist is a precise way to tell which allergens are contributing to your allergy symptoms. Once you know exactly what you are allergic to, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan to reduce or eliminate your allergy symptoms. Your allergy treatment plan may include medications, immunotherapy, changes to your work or home environment, or dietary changes.
Ask your doctor to explain anything about your diagnosis or treatment you don’t understand. With test results that identify your allergens and a treatment plan to help you take control, you’ll be able to reduce or eliminate allergy signs and symptoms.
Visit us today at https://allergyfyi.org to take back control of your allergies and your life.