We all know someone that suffers from one allergy or another. You might have an allergy and didn't even know it. Have you ever eaten something and not felt well after? Have you ever just started itching, sneezing, or suddenly had watery eyes? Below is a list of some of the more common symptoms.
To address your allergy symptoms it is critical to identify what is causing your symptoms.
In many cases, it can be difficult to accurately determine the specific allergic triggers. Sometimes more than one type of test is required. Our office has the appropriate tools and understands the intricacies of the various tests and investigations required to diagnose allergies and allergy-related problems.
The results of allergy tests can are utilized to help develop a treatment plan to effectively manage your allergy symptoms. Allergy testing may include a medical history, a physical examination, allergy skin tests, allergy blood tests, and food allergy testing.
An allergy is an abnormal immune system response that occurs as a result of exposure to certain substances (called allergens). An allergic reaction occurs when an allergen-specific antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which is produced by the immune system and binds to cells in the body (mast cells), comes into contact with the specific allergen for which it was produced.
Allergens cause the white blood cells, to produce IgE antibodies that attach themselves to mast cells or basophils. The allergen attaches to the surface of these mast cells and when the allergen and the IgE antibodies combine, they release histamines. Histamines dilates blood vessels and the reaction may trigger other chemicals to cause the allergy symptoms.
Allergies are often linked to serious respiratory illness such as allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, and asthma, and severe allergies can cause a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis.
We have the special training, techniques and equipment needed to diagnose and treat allergies. If an allergy is suspected, we may ask you to keep a record of when, where, and under what circumstances the symptoms occur. To help diagnose an allergy, we take a medical and family history, information about the patient’s home, work, and school environment. Allergies often run in families. We may then perform a physical examination and diagnostic tests.
During physical examination, we may examine the ears, eyes, nose, throat, skin, and lungs. In some cases, a pulmonary function test is performed to determine how well you are able to expel air from the lungs.
Types of Allergy Testing
Skin tests often are used to diagnose allergies. These tests involve very little discomfort and take about 30 minutes to perform. We interpret the results of the test in conjunction with the patient’s history and use these results to determine the best course of treatment.
Prior to allergy skin tests, a positive histamine control test and a negative saline control test may be performed. A positive control test is used to determine if the patient reacts to histamine. If the patient does not immediately react to histamine, the results of allergy skin tests can be difficult to interpret. A negative control test involves applying a saline solution that does not include any allergens. Patients who react to this solution may have skin that is too sensitive to allow correct interpretation of allergy skin tests. There are two types of skin tests, prick tests and intradermal (i.e., under the skin) tests.
Prick tests involve placing small drops of common allergens on skin areas like the forearms or back. These areas may then lightly pricked through the test allergen droplet with a small needle. Intradermal tests involve injecting a small amount of allergen into the outer layer of skin. When a patient is allergic to a substance, redness, itching, and swelling develop at the site of the test within 20 minutes. After the test, a mild cortisone cream may be applied to reduce itching.
Patch tests can be used to diagnose contact dermatitis. In this we might apply a small amount of allergen on the skin and cover the area with a bandage. Checks for a reaction are made after 48 to 72 hours. Patients who are allergic to the substance may develop a rash, or even blisters, on the skin.
Certain medications (e.g., antihistamines, antidepressants) and skin conditions (e.g., eczema) can interfere with allergy skin tests. Patients who must continue to take these medications and patients who have a severe skin condition may require a blood test to diagnose allergies.
Allergy blood tests involve taking a blood sample, adding an allergen to the sample, and measuring the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies produced in response to the allergen.
Allergy blood tests, which are less sensitive and more expensive than skin tests, are usually reserved for rare cases when allergy skin tests may not be accurate. This may be the case when the patient has sensitive skin that reacts to a saline prick test or has a skin condition, such as hives or eczema, that prevents an adequate field for skin tests.
Food Allergy Tests
In addition to allergy skin tests and allergy blood tests, patients with a suspected food allergy may undergo food allergy tests. Food allergy testing often begins with keeping a food diary, which is a detailed list of all foods, the date and time they were eaten, and any symptoms that occurred.
When a single food allergy is suspected, the patient may be advised to eliminate the food from the diet and then, if symptoms are relieved, add the food back to the diet to determine if an allergic reaction occurs. This allergy test is not used in patients with a history of severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
If the results of these food allergy tests are inconclusive, the allergist/immunologist may perform a “blinded” food allergy test and/or a challenge test. These tests usually are performed in a physician’s office or in the hospital, and they are closely supervised. This test involves feeding the patient either the suspected food, or a neutral food (called a placebo), and then monitoring the patient for an allergic reaction. Neither the patient nor the physician knows whether the suspected food or the placebo is being given to the patient. The results of these allergy tests are very reliable.
Once an allergen is identified, normal treatment may include medications and allergy shots as a form of immunotherapy. In some cases the identified allergen may simply be removed from the environment. Monitoring and adjusting these treatments are key to successful treatment. In difficult cases, we have had remarkable success with advanced treatment techniques like Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT). Let us help you find relief from your allergic responses and gain a better quality of life.
Book an appointment today to begin to control your allergic responses.
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