What Are Allergies?
Allergies are abnormal physical reactions you experience when you are exposed to substances called allergens, to which you have developed an allergy. These substances are usually harmless and do not produce symptoms in normal, non-allergic people. Your body produces antibodies to ward off infection and other diseases. When your immune system misidentifies a normally harmless substance, it begins building antibodies toward that specific substance. These antibodies in your blood, trigger allergic symptoms when you are re-exposed to that substance.
Inhalant Allergy Causes
The air you breathe contains minute particles. The type of particles in the air will vary according to your location, the time of year and moisture in your environment. Common causes of inhalant allergies are plant pollens like trees, weeds and grasses, house dust particles, mold spores, animal hair and dander, and insect particles.
Allergy symptoms can take many different forms. Sneezing, post-nasal drip, itching, congestion, watery discharge can be a reaction from your nose and sinuses; Itching, redness, swelling, dark circles can be a reaction from your eyes; recurrent infections, fluid in the middle ear, itching, hearing impairment can be a reaction from your ears; shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in chest, coughing can be a reaction from your lungs; itchy welts or hives, rash, intense itching can be a reaction from your skin; stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea can be a reaction from your digestive system. Other symptoms sometimes caused by allergies is fatigue, sleeplessness, headache, hyperactivity and depression.
Allergies are a complex problem and sometimes are very difficult to diagnose since some symptoms produced by allergies can also be caused by non-allergic conditions. The physicians at Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates will perform a thorough evaluation of your history, physical examination and your past and current medication regimen. If the cause of your symptoms cannot be determined through information from your history and physical exam, more extensive investigation will be necessary. Allergy testing can be performed by skin testing in the office.
Allergy skin tests are used to find out which substances cause a person to have an allergic reaction. Approximately 50% of the U.S. population has one or more types of allergy. Allergy symptoms account for more visits to the doctor’s office than any other single disease and are a leading cause of school absenteeism in this country.
The skin prick test involves placing a small amount of substances that may be causing your symptoms on the skin, most often on the forearm, upper arm, or back. The skin is then pricked so the allergen goes under the skin’s surface. Our allergy technician closely watches the skin for swelling, redness or other signs of a reaction. Results are usually seen within 15 to 20 minutes.
Several allergens can be tested at the same time. The intradermal skin test involves injecting a small amount of allergen into the skin. Our allergy technician watches for a reaction at the site. This test is more likely to be used to find out if you are allergic to bee venom or penicillin. Or it may be used if the skin prick test was negative and the provider still thinks that you are allergic to the allergen. Patch testing is a method to diagnose the cause of skin reactions that occur after the substance touches the skin. Possible allergens are taped to the skin for 48 hours, then our allergy technician will look at the area in 72 to 96 hours.
Before any allergy testing, the physicians at Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates will ask about a number of questions concerning illnesses, where you live and work and things about your lifestyle. We do not test for food allergies. Since allergy medicines can change the results of skin tests, your doctor will tell you which medicines to avoid and when to stop taking them prior to the test.
The skin tests may cause mild discomfort when the skin is pricked. You may have symptoms such as itching, a stuffy nose, red watery eyes or a skin rash if you are allergic to the substance in the test. In rare cases, people can have a whole-body allergic reaction which can be life-threatening. This usually only occurs with intradermal testing. The physicians at Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates will be prepared to treat this serious response.
Allergy tests are done to determine what substances are causing your allergy symptoms.
Allergy skin testing may be ordered if you suffer from Hay fever, allergic rhinitis or asthma symptoms that are not well controlled with medicine; skin rashes in which the skin becomes red, sore or swollen after contact with the substance; Penicillin allergy; and Venom allergy. Allergies to penicillin and closely related medicines are the only drug allergies that can be tested using skin tests. Skin tests for allergies to other drugs can be dangerous.
A negative test result means there were no skin changes in response to the allergen. This negative reaction most often means that you are not allergic to the substance. In some cases, a person may have a negative allergy test and still be allergic to the substance.
A positive result means you reacted to a substance. Our Allergy Technician will note a red, raised area called a wheal. Often, a positive result means the symptoms you are having are due to exposure to that substance. In general, a stronger response means you are more sensitive to the substance. People can have a positive response to a substance with allergy skin testing, but not have any problems with that substance in everyday life.
Skin tests are usually accurate. However, since the dose of allergen is large and concentrated, even people who are not allergic will have a positive reaction. Your physician at Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates will consider your symptoms and discuss the results of your skin test to suggest lifestyle changes you can make to avoid substances that may be causing your symptoms.
The best treatment for allergies is to identify the offending substances, then carefully avoid exposure to them. This can be very effective for allergies to things like pets and foods but is not possible for some allergies such as pollens, mold spores and house dust. Medications such as antihistamines, oral decongestants, nasal sprays and bronchodilators may be effective in controlling your allergic symptoms. Medication may be used along with immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, commonly referred to as “allergy shots” is a program designed to desensitize you to those substances to which you are allergic. Repeated injections of a sterile mixture allow your immune system to build up protection against them. After several months of weekly injections of increasingly stronger doses, you will reach a maintenance dose and continue to receive that dose at regular intervals. Most people will receive complete symptom relief by taking allergy shots, but a true “cure’ is rare. An ongoing program of avoidance, medication, immunotherapy or a combination of these methods, under the direct supervision of your physician at Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates, is the BEST approach to controlling your allergies and allowing you to live more comfortably in your existing surroundings.