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What causes allergies?
How are allergies diagnosed?
What is the treatment for allergies?
How can I prevent allergies?
Where can I buy a
home test kit for allergies?
an overreaction of the immune system to substances that usually cause no
reaction in most individuals. These substances can trigger sneezing,
wheezing, coughing, and itching. Allergies are not only bothersome, but
many have been linked to a variety of common and serious chronic
respiratory illnesses (such as sinusitis and asthma). Additionally,
allergic reactions can be severe and even fatal. However, with proper
management and patient education, allergic diseases can be controlled,
and people with allergies can lead normal and productive lives.
Some common allergic reactions: (click on each allergy
name for more information. link will open in new window).
or “indoor/outdoor,” “seasonal,” “perennial” or “nasal” allergies):
Characterized by nasal stuffiness, sneezing, nasal itching, clear nasal
discharge, and itching of the roof of the mouth and/or ears.
triggered by an allergic reaction):
Characterized by airway obstruction that is at least partially
reversible with medication and is always associated with allergy.
Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or rapid
breathing, chest tightness, and occasional fatigue and slight chest
Most prevalent in very young children and frequently outgrown, food
allergies are characterized by a broad range of allergic reactions.
Symptoms may include itching or swelling of lips or tongue; tightness of
the throat with hoarseness; nausea and vomiting; diarrhea; occasionally
chest tightness and wheezing; itching of the eyes; decreased blood
pressure or loss of consciousness and anaphylaxis.
Is characterized by a variety of allergic responses affecting any tissue
or organ. Drug allergies can cause anaphylaxis; even those patients who
do not have life-threatening symptoms initially may progress to a
Anaphylaxis (extreme response to a food or drug allergy): Characterized by life-threatening symptoms. This is a medical
emergency and the most severe form of allergic reaction. Symptoms
include a sense of impending doom; generalized warmth or flush; tingling
of palms, soles of feet or lips; light-headedness; bloating and chest
tightness. These can progress into seizures, cardiac arrhythmia, shock
and respiratory distress. Possible causes can be medications, vaccines,
food, latex, and insect stings and bites.
An allergic response to the proteins in natural, latex
rubber characterized by a range of allergic reactions. Persons at risk
include healthcare workers, patients having multiple surgeries and
rubber-industry workers. Symptoms include hand dermatitis, eczema and
urticaria; sneezing and other respiratory distress; and lower
respiratory problems including coughing, wheezing and shortness of
Characterized by a variety of allergic reactions; stings
cannot always be avoided and can happen to anyone. Symptoms include
pain, itching and swelling at the sting site or over a larger area and
can cause anaphylaxis. Insects that sting include bees, hornets, wasps,
yellow jackets, and fire and harvest ants.
Urticaria (hives, skin allergy) A reaction of the skin, or a skin
condition commonly known as hives. Characterized by the development of
itchy, raised white bumps on the skin surrounded by an area of red
inflammation. Acute urticaria is often caused by an allergy to foods or
allergy): Characterized by inflammation of the eyes; it is the most
common form of allergic eye disease. Symptoms can include itchy and
watery eyes and lid distress. Allergic conjunctivitis is also commonly
associated with the presence of other allergic diseases such as atopic
dermatitis, allergic rhinitis and asthma.
What causes allergies?
The substances that cause allergic disease
in people are known as allergens. “Antigens,” or protein particles like
pollen, food or dander enter our bodies through a variety of ways. If
the antigen causes an allergic reaction, that particle is considered an
“allergen” – and antigen that triggers an allergic reaction. These
allergens can get into our body in several ways:
Inhaled into the
nose and the lungs. Examples are airborne
pollens of certain trees, grasses and weeds; house dust that include
dust mite particles, mold spores, cat and dog dander and latex dust.
Ingested by mouth. Frequent culprits include shrimp, peanuts and other nuts.
Injected. Such as medications delivered by needle like penicillin or
other injectable drugs, and venom from insect stings and bites.
the skin. Plants such as poison ivy, sumac
and oak and latex are examples.
How are allergies diagnosed?
If you break out in hives when a bee
stings you, or you sneeze every time you pet a cat, you know what some
of your allergens are. But if the pattern is not so obvious, try keeping
a record of when, where, and under what circumstances your reactions
occur. This can be as easy as jotting down notes on a calendar. If the
pattern still isn't clear, make an appointment with your doctor for
Doctors Diagnose Allergies in Three Steps:
Personal and medical history. Your
doctor will ask you questions to get a complete understanding of your
symptoms and their possible causes. Bring your notes to help jog your
memory. Be ready to answer questions about your family history, the
kinds of medicines you take, and your lifestyle at home, school, and
Physical examination. If your
doctor suspects an allergy, he/she will pay special attention to your
ears, eyes, nose, throat, chest, and skin during the physical
examination. This exam may include a pulmonary function test to detect
how well you exhale air from your lungs. You may also need an X-ray of
your lungs or sinuses.
Tests to determine your allergens. Your
doctor may do a skin test, patch test or blood test.
Skin test. For most people, skin
tests are the most accurate and least expensive way to confirm suspected
allergens. There are two types of allergen skin tests. In prick/scratch
testing, a small drop of the possible allergen is placed on the skin,
followed by lightly pricking or scratching with a needle through the
drop. In intra-dermal (under the skin) testing, a very small amount of
allergen is injected into the outer layer of skin.
With either test, if you are allergic to the substance, you will develop
redness, swelling, and itching at the test site within 20 minutes. You
may also see a "wheal" or raised, round area that looks like a hive.
Usually, the larger the wheal, the more sensitive you are to the
Patch test. This test determines if
you have contact dermatitis. Your doctor will place a small amount of a
possible allergen on your skin, cover it with a bandage, and check your
reaction after 48 hours. If you are allergic to the substance, you
should develop a rash.
Blood tests. Allergen blood tests
(also called RAST, ELISA, FAST, MAST, RIST, STALLERSYM, or CAP tests)
are sometimes used when people have a skin condition or are taking
medicines which interfere with skin testing. Your doctor will take a
blood sample and send it to a laboratory. The lab adds the allergen to
your blood sample, and then measures the amount of antibodies your blood
produces to attack the allergens.
What is the treatment for allergies?
Good allergy treatment is based on the results of your
allergy tests, your medical history, and the severity of your symptoms.
It can include three different treatment strategies:
Avoiding Your Allergens
The best way to prevent allergy symptoms and minimize your need for
allergy medicine is to avoid your allergens as much as possible and to
eliminate the source of allergens from your home and other environments.
For important tips, talk to your doctor.
Some people don't take allergy medicines because they don't take their
symptoms seriously. The result may be painful complications such
as sinus or ear infections. Don't take the risk. There are so many safe
prescription and non-prescription medicines to relieve allergy
symptoms! Following is a brief list of medications taken for allergies.
They are available in non-prescription and prescription form:
Antihistamines and decongestants are the most common medicines
used for allergies. Antihistamines help relieve rashes and hives, as
well as sneezing, itching, and runny nose. Prescription antihistamines
are similar to their non-prescription counterparts, but many of them
do not cause drowsiness. Decongestant pills, sprays, and nose drops
reduce stuffiness by shrinking swollen membranes in the nose.
is important to remember that using a non-prescription nasal
decongestant spray more than three days in a row may cause the swelling
and stuffiness in your nose to become worse, even after you stop
using the medicine. This is called a "rebound" reaction. Some
non-prescription "cold" medicines combine an antihistamine, a pain
reliever like aspirin or acetaminophen, and a decongestant. Aspirin can
cause asthma attacks in some people. Don't take a chance: if you have
asthma, talk with your doctor before taking any non-prescription allergy
Eye drops may
provide temporary relief from burning or bloodshot eyes. However, only
prescription allergy eye drops contain antihistamines that can reduce
itching, tearing and swelling.
Corticosteroid creams or
ointments relieve itchiness and halt the spread of rashes.
Corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids that are
used illegally by some athletes to build muscles. If your rash does
not go away after using a non-prescription corticosteroid for (a
week?), see your doctor.
sprays help reduce the inflammation that causes nasal congestion
without the chance of the "rebound" effect found in non-prescription
Cromolyn Sodium prevents
the inflammation which causes nasal congestion. Because it has few, if
any, side effects, cromolyn can be safely used over long periods of
Oral Corticosteroids may
be prescribed to reduce swelling and stop severe allergic reactions.
Because these medications can cause serious side effects, you should
expect your doctor to carefully monitor you.
Epinephrine comes in
pre-measured, self-injectable containers, and is the only medication
which can help during a life-threatening anaphylactic attack. To be
effective, epinephrine must be given within minutes of the first sign
of serious allergic reaction.
Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots)
When it is not possible to avoid your allergens and treatment with
medications alone does not solve the problem, immunotherapy can often
prevent allergy symptoms. It involves giving a person increasingly
higher doses of their allergen over time. For reasons that we do not
completely understand, the person gradually becomes less sensitive to
that allergen. This can be effective for some people with hay fever,
certain animal allergies, and insect stings. It is usually not effective
for allergies to food, drugs, or feathers, nor is it effective for hives
How can I prevent allergies?
There are some simple things you can do to prevent
allergies at home, work school, outside and when you travel.
Dust to control mites. By
dusting surfaces and washing bedding often, you can control the amount
of dust mites in your home.
Vacuum often. Although
cleaning can sometimes trigger allergic reactions, with dust in the
air, vacuuming once or twice a week will reduce the surface dust
mites. Wear a mask when doing housework and consider leaving for a few
hours after you clean to avoid allergens in the air. You can also make
sure your vacuum has an air filter to capture dust.
Reduce pet dander. If you have allergies, you
should avoid pets with feathers or fur like birds, dogs and cats.
Animal saliva and dead skin, or pet dander , can cause allergic
reactions. If you can’t bear to part with your pet, you should at
least keep it out of the bedroom.
Shut out pollen. When you
clean your windows, do you see a film of pollen on the frame or sill?
One easy way to prevent pollen from entering your home is to keep
windows and doors closed. Use an air filter and clean it regularly or
run the air conditioner and change the filter often.
Avoid mold spores. Mold spores grow in moist
areas. If you reduce the moisture in the bathroom and kitchen, you
will reduce the mold. Fix any leaks inside and outside of your home
and clean moldy surfaces. Plants can carry pollen and mold too, so
limit the number of houseplants. Dehumidifiers will also help reduce
here to purchase home test kits for allergies.