Allergies are something that many people have to deal with. People with mild allergies may be able to just avoid the things they’re allergic to or treat their allergies with over-the-counter medications. For other people, allergies can majorly interfere with everyday life. When that is the case, it may be time to see an allergy specialist at the Asthma Allergy Centre in Portland, Oregon.
What Causes Allergies
Allergic reactions occur when the immune system mistakes a foreign substance, such as a food or something airborne, as something harmful. The immune system then causes the body to react as if it were ill.
Scientists aren’t completely sure why some people develop allergies and others don’t. Genetics appear to be an important factor. A child is more likely to develop allergies if one or both parents, or one or more grandparents, suffer from them. Being around smoke and pollution can cause a person to be more susceptible to developing allergies.
Early exposure to an allergen has sometimes been thought to cause allergies. New studies show that early exposure can actually prevent allergies. In one study, children who were exposed to airborne allergens as infants were less likely to develop allergies by the time they were three years old. The more allergens the infants were exposed to, the less likely they were to have allergies.
Signs of Allergies
Contrary to popular belief, allergies are not always present from birth or early childhood. Older children and adults can develop new allergies. Some people do not even realize they have an allergy, at first, since the symptoms can be similar to those of illnesses. Here are some signs to help you recognize whether you have an allergy.
Nasal allergies occur when you are allergic to something airborne. Examples of nasal allergies are pollen, dust, mold, animal dander, and even cockroaches.
The symptoms are similar to those of a common cold. However, if your symptoms last for more than a week, return in specific situations or settings, or occur without a fever, allergies are the likely culprit. An allergy specialist can rule out other illnesses. Look for these allergy symptoms:
- Runny nose with clear mucus
- Stuffy nose
- Itchy nose
- Itchy throat
- Postnasal drip
- Itchy, red, watery eyes
- Ear congestion
- Sore throat
- Sinus pain
Sometimes an allergic reaction can affect the skin. Allergic reactions on the skin can be caused by contact dermatitis (when your skin comes into direct contact with something you are allergic to) or by something else, such as an insect bite, exposure to a fragrance, or an allergy to a medication. If you have any of the following symptoms, it would be helpful to contact a specialist.
- Redness of skin
- Hives (raised, itchy welts)
- Eczema (patches of itchy, cracked, rough skin)
A food allergy occurs when the body reacts to something a person eats. Food sensitivities are sometimes mistaken for food allergies. The main difference is whether the reaction is caused by the immune system or the digestive system. A specialist can determine which one a person is experiencing.
Common foods that cause allergic reactions are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. 90% of food-related allergic reactions are caused by these foods, which are sometimes referred to as The Big Eight. The most serious food allergy symptom is anaphylaxis. It can cause dizziness, a drop in blood pressure, a swollen throat, or tightening of the airways. Anaphylaxis can result in death.
People experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis should get emergency treatment. If the person has already seen an allergy specialist, they may have been given an epinephrine, or Epipen, prescription. They should have an injection as soon as possible. Other, less serious symptoms of food allergies include:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing or wheezing
- Swollen tongue or lips
- Tingly or itchy mouth
Allergy Testing With an Allergy Specialist
When you work with an allergy specialist, the first step will be to determine whether you do have allergies and what they are triggered by. New patients will most likely be asked to fill out an allergy questionnaire about your past and current symptoms. They’ll also want to learn your medical history.
Allergy testing may be necessary. The two most common types of allergy testing are a skin test and a blood test. For people with food allergies, a food allergy oral challenge may also be administered.
When a patient undergoes a skin test, the allergy specialist applies small amounts of different suspected allergens to the skin. Then, they prick or scratch the skin, allowing the allergens to enter the bloodstream.
If the patient is allergic to a substance, the area where they were pricked will swell slightly, like a mosquito bite. The reaction may be immediate, or it may take up to a few hours. If no reaction occurs, the patient can safely assume that they are not allergic to that substance. The amounts of allergens that enter the bloodstream are so small that any reaction will be mild. The test is safe enough to perform on children and infants.
A blood test is a less common option for allergy testing. An allergy blood test can measure the amount of allergen-specific antibodies your immune system produces. Blood tests might also measure chemicals in the blood that cause allergic reactions.
A blood test might be used if a patient is not a good candidate for a skin test. For example, some people take medications that would interfere with the results of a skin test. Some people with certain health conditions such as asthma may not be able to tolerate a skin test. People who have experienced severe or even life-threatening allergic reactions may be better candidates for blood testing.
Food Allergy Oral Challenge
If skin and blood tests are inconclusive for food allergies, an oral challenge may be the next step. In this test, the patient is given foods that are suspected allergens. They start with a small amount that is unlikely to cause a reaction and then move onto slightly larger amounts.
The allergist observes the patient. At the first sign of a reaction, the testing is stopped. The patient can take medications to relieve allergy symptoms if necessary. If no reactions occur, the food is probably safe. In what is considered the most accurate, or “gold standard,” version of the oral challenge, the patient is also given a placebo food. In this case, the patient is observed twice, hours or days apart.
During one session, the person will eat something that does contain a suspected allergen, such as a cookie that contains eggs. During the other session, the person eats something that does not contain the suspected allergen. The patient does not know which session they will be given the allergen. This helps to ensure that the allergy symptoms are not psychosomatic.
Benefits of Allergy Testing
Some people may be reluctant to undergo allergy testing or to subject their children to it. They may feel that testing is not necessary if they have an idea of what they or their children are allergic to. People may be happy treating their allergies with OTC medications or by avoiding their allergens.
However, there are several benefits to undergoing allergy testing.
Allergy testing allows a person to discover precisely what is causing their allergic reactions. Many people may have a vague idea of what they are allergic to, but not exactly what. For example, a person may realize that they have seasonal allergies in the autumn, but not know exactly what is causing those allergies.
Once someone knows what they are allergic to, they can decide whether to be treated. If they choose to simply avoid their allergen, they will have an easier time avoiding something specific. If they chose to be treated, their doctor can create a treatment plan for them.
It can also be helpful to test children who have not yet been exposed to an allergen. For example, if a parent is severely allergic to insect venom, they can have their child tested instead of waiting for the child to get bitten or stung. Then, if the child is allergic, the parent can be prepared. If the child is not allergic, their worries will be alleviated.
Some people can simply avoid their allergens. For example, a person who is allergic to cats can try to avoid cats. But other allergens, such as dust and pollen, can be more difficult to avoid. Or, a person with a pet allergy may not be able to avoid their allergen if other household members want to own a pet. In these cases, allergy sufferers need to find a course of treatment.
An allergy specialist can offer more effective treatments than those available over the counter. These treatments may greatly decrease a patient’s allergic reactions or even stop them from happening at all.
Allergen Immunotherapy involves giving a patient small amounts of an allergen on a regular basis. The amount administered is increased slightly each time. The purpose is to change the immune system’s response to the allergen.
Allergens can be administered either by injection or under the tongue. Injections are considered to be more effective, but they require patients to visit the allergy specialist on a monthly basis.
Immunotherapy is most helpful for environmental airborne allergies, such as pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. Immunotherapy treatments may be decreased or ended as the patient’s allergy symptoms decrease. Some patients may be able to go several years without needing another treatment.
Food Allergy Desensitization
For those with food allergies, food allergy desensitization is an option. This is a similar concept to allergen immunotherapy. Patients are given tiny amounts of the food they are allergic to on a regular basis. The intention is for the person’s allergic reaction to the food to decrease or stop occurring altogether.
Many nasal allergy sufferers get frequent sinusitis, or sinus infections. Sinusitis may be caused when the body produces too much mucus. Sinusitis may be acute (lasting four weeks or less) or chronic (lasting more than four weeks, or even lasting for months or years.) While acute sinusitis may be an actual sinus infection that can be treated with antibiotics, chronic sinusitis usually involves inflammation without infection.
Symptoms of sinusitis are usually more severe than typical nasal allergy symptoms. They include facial pressure, sinus headache, fatigue, and thick nasal discharge and post-nasal drainage. Oral medication can help to alleviate the symptoms of sinus infections. Sinus inflammation can also be treated with nasal sprays and washes.
If allergies are interfering in your life or the life of your child, the time to see an allergy specialist is now. An allergy specialist can identify and treat the allergy so that you or your children can live without painful or irritating symptoms.
Take The First Step
If you are ready to take the first step towards tackling your allergies, contact Asthma Allergy Centre in Portland, Oregon today.