Allergies are one of the world’s most common diseases and also one of the most puzzling. More than 50 million Americans suffer from one or more allergies, including a whopping 40% of U.S. children. While there’s no cure for allergies, Asthma Allergy Centre in Tigard, OR is an allergy specialist that can identify, manage and even build immunity to your allergies, helping you live your life symptom-free.
Do You Have an Allergy?
If you already know you suffer from an allergy, you know the symptoms all too well. Allergies cause everything from sneezing, runny noses, and watery eyes to skin breakouts, changes in blood pressure, and even dangerous respiratory and cardiac conditions. Allergic reactions can be obvious and appear in minutes, but they sometimes damage us in hidden ways over time, because the patient is unaware of the allergic source. Many people suffer from an allergy they don’t even know they have.
While many people outgrow their allergies after age 30, many others develop a new allergy later in life. In some cases, these “allergies,” such as lactose intolerance, aren’t really an allergy but are mistaken for one through a lack of proper diagnosis. Today, allergies can be well managed by treatments and our bodies can even be trained over time to tolerate allergens that once made us ill. An allergy specialist can identify and subdue allergic triggers.
How Can an Allergy Specialist Help You?
An allergy specialist’s work can be divided into two main chapters. The first is a discovery session, where the specialist identifies just what it is that your body is allergic to. This detective work is a collaboration between doctor and patient. You’ll talk about your diet, your home and work environments, your outside activities, and your lifestyle. You’ll discuss what you see as the typical symptoms and to the best of your ability describe when they happen.
Once the allergy has been identified, our doctor tailors a treatment strategy going forward. In most cases, there are effective medical remedies, including immunotherapy, that can greatly relieve and even eliminate the symptoms that you’re experiencing, especially from common airborne allergens such as those that cause hay fever. The right treatment can make the difference between living in misery on a frequent basis — or going on with your life with your symptoms firmly under control.
What Is Testing Like?
There are several different testing methodologies for allergen detection. The ones we use – and the ones that yield the wanted identification most often – are the skin prick test and the food “challenge” test. Between these two, our doctors can identify most of the conventional allergens that you may be sensitive to and require treatment to manage.
Administering the Skin Prick Test
In this method, our doctor will use a tiny needle to introduce minuscule amounts of known allergens into your skin. A series of temporary marks are made in the forearm (or in the back for children) to identify which allergen has been introduced next to it. Typical allergens that we test for include pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander. These are common triggers for an allergic reaction, which we will see evidence of in about 15 minutes.
There’s nothing to worry about regarding pain from these tests. The needles are so small that patients barely feel them going in. In addition to the above-mentioned test allergens, our doctor will also prick the skin with tiny amounts of two additional elements. One is called histamine, a chemical compound that triggers a reaction from your immune system. The other is saline, which indicates to the doctor how sensitive your skin is in general.
Evaluating the Skin Prick Results
After about 15 minutes, your arm will be examined to see what happened when the allergens were introduced. If there’s an allergic reaction, there will be a small bump of skin that looks similar to an insect bite. The bump might be itchy and red, a telltale sign that the allergen produced an allergic response. Naturally, these small bumps are harmless and controlled. Irritations will clear up on their own, sometimes as quickly as a few minutes.
The visible results are measured along with the “control” substances of histamine and saline. The former lets us know how sensitive your body is to allergens in general. The latter lets us know if your skin is prone to over-reaction from contact with allergens. These two markers give context to the visible results of the skin prick test. When the culprit is found during this test, we can begin to make recommendations.
The Food Challenge Test
Not all allergic reactions come from external contact; many of them come from the foods that we eat. To determine if you’re allergic to certain types of food, we conduct what is known as a “food challenge.” You are given small amounts of food of the type that’s suspected of being the allergic trigger. If there’s a physical reaction, the identification is made.
There’s no reason to be afraid of this test. You’ll be in a clinical environment where the process is medically supervised, and you are only receiving a very small amount of the suspected allergen. If you do experience an allergic reaction, it will generally be quite mild and we’re right there to offer treatment and relief. More importantly, we’ll have identified the allergen that your body can’t tolerate without help. Your treatment can now begin.
What Causes Allergies?
Our bodies are remarkably efficient at fighting off foreign substances and environmental agents that they see as destructive. Some of the body’s less-subtle responses in this vein are easy to see and understand. When we breathe in pollen, the nasal passages can become irritated. This provokes a sneeze to literally expel the problem, and tears to flush the pollen away and make sure that our eyes aren’t harmed.
Sometimes, for reasons that are not always well understood, the immune system sends out antibodies to fight off a substance that isn’t really harmful to us. In these instances, we’re said to be allergic to these substances. Allergic reactions can range from uncomfortable to actively life-threatening. As a result, any suspected allergies should be taken seriously by every patient.
Is an Allergy Serious?
Most allergic reactions are temporary and present themselves in a specific part of the body, like the skin or your sinuses. But in the case of an extreme allergic reaction — called anaphylaxis – the immune system sends out an emergency all-hands-on-deck response throughout the body to combat the problem. A severe allergic reaction might include difficulty breathing, which causes the heart to work harder, which changes blood pressure, which can cause fainting and a cascade of other dangerous effects.
Anaphylaxis is relatively uncommon. On a broader note, many people live with the discomfort of their allergies and just consider them part of life. They take oral medications to deal with the swelling of hay fever, or rescue inhalers to unblock constricted breathing passages. Since there is no cure, they don’t seek any treatment that could mitigate their allergy – or better yet, train them out of it. They put a band-aid on the problem rather than seek a fix.
What Are the Types of Allergies?
Some of the most troubling allergic responses involve our respiratory system. These allergic reactions constrict our breathing, also producing severe post-nasal drip (sinusitis), a frightening tightening of the chest, and deep wheezing that makes it difficult for either activity or sleep. These allergies can be brought on by a host of airborne problems emanating from plants, animals, or dust.
According to the USDA, there are more than 160 different foods that can cause an allergic reaction. In some cases, the allergic response merits immediate medical attention. Fortunately, many of these allergens are well-studied. The USDA reports that more than 90% of food-borne allergic reactions can be traced to the following foods:
- Dairy (milk, cheese, etc.)
- Shellfish (shrimp, oysters, lobster, etc.)
- Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, pecans)
- Peanuts (present in about 3% of children)
- Wheat (bread, cakes, pasta, etc.)
- Soybeans (tofu, soy sauce, etc.)
Insects are all around us, even when we can’t see them. Some of them openly bite us on the skin, like mosquitos and ticks. Others, like bees and hornets, sting us on contact, and their poison can easily send us running to an urgent care clinic or worse because of an allergic reaction. The worst offenders? That would be cockroaches, which you (hopefully!) never really see. Experts believe that these pests are one of the most common causes of asthmatic allergic conditions.
This one hurts pet lovers in two ways. For many of us, allergic reactions to fur and pet dander are completely common, so many pet owners simply put up with the condition, which is obviously not ideal. Worse, they sometimes end up getting rid of the pet in order to solve the problem, even though the source of the allergy may not have been the pet at all. This is one of the easier tests that the allergy specialist can spot through the skin prick test.
Mold is a fungus that grows literally everywhere around us. If your body is sensitive to mold you are likely to be living with allergic symptoms. The problem is that mold is often invisible or hidden behind walls or under floors, so you have no idea why you’ve been having recent allergic symptoms. Our testing can help reveal this issue and our treatments can help you live with it without discomfort.
Injection Therapy: Un-Training Your Allergy
Allergy “shots” from an allergy specialist are a form of immunotherapy that can provide long-term and even permanent relief for people who suffer from troublesome asthmatic symptoms. This therapy works very much like a vaccine. After we identify your specific allergy, we inject a small amount of the relevant allergen into your body, timed over the course of weeks. Over time, your body builds up resistance to the allergen, and the immune system is no longer provoked into an allergic response.
Training your immune system in this way can yield long-term effects. For patients who would rather continue the treatment at home, we also offer sub-lingual (under the tongue) treatments made from liquid extracts, and also sub-lingual tablets that will help you through hay fever season.
How Can I Get Started?
There’s no reason to live with allergy symptoms when you can finally do something about them. In addition to pinpointing your particular allergy triggers, we can help mitigate their effects long term and even train your body to not be bothered by them. To find relief from your allergies, contact Asthma Allergy Centre in Tigard, OR, today to schedule an appointment!