Whether your allergies are seasonal
or year-round, antihistamines and decongestants can only go so far. If you’re
ready to seek long-term treatment for your allergy problems, below are some
details on what to expect.
In many cases, an allergy sufferer
visits his or her physician, explains symptoms, and is given a mild daily
allergy prescription, such as Claritin or Semprex. This is for mild, seasonal
cases and is intended as a short-term solution.
If your allergies are more severe or
year-round, your physician may recommend allergy testing. You may choose to do
this testing anyway, as it gives a complete picture of your specific allergens.
While you’ve likely heard stories about thousands of needle pricks, allergy
testing is not anything to be afraid of. There are several types of allergy
tests and each test is done under close supervision.
To determine the substances causing
your symptoms, your doctor will likely first try the skin scratch test. A small
amount of each possible allergen is placed on the patient’s skin, lightly
scratching the skin with the needle to allow the allergen to go further into
the skin. The doctor then waits to see if the skin swells or reddens. Since
results are seen within 15-20 minutes, the patient is closely monitored during
this time. However, it should be noted that occasionally the patient sees
results hours after testing occurs.
If a scratch test is unsuccessful in
determining a patient’s allergens or if a specific allergen needs to be tested,
physicians may order an intradermal skin test, where the allergen is injected
into the skin. Like the scratch test, the doctor then waits to see if there is
A third type of skin test is called a
patch test. Allergens are attached to the skin and left for up to 48 hours.
This method is used when a doctor needs to test skin reactions to certain items
and the doctor will usually check the skin after 24 hours, then again after 48
Naturally, the biggest danger in all
of these tests is that a patient will react to a large number of allergens at
once. Itching, dizziness, and occasional fainting have been reported as a
result of these tests.
Process of Elimination
Elimination tests are used primarily
with food allergies. The physician has a patient remove certain items from his
or her diet to determine if symptoms abate. Once the item has been absent from
the patient’s diet for a period of time, the physician will then have the
patient gradually add the item back into his or her diet and see if symptoms
Elimination tests can be especially
difficult in children whose parents aren’t always in control of what they eat.
One simple slip-up can negate all test results, so parents need to understand
the importance of making sure the child sticks to the diet at all times, even
while at school or out with friends.
If skin testing is not an option, a
physician may prescribe a blood test to determine the presence of antibodies to
certain allergens in the blood. Since this test requires only one needle, some
patients prefer this method. This test, called ImmunoCAP, compares well against
traditional skin tests in studies.
However, in a University of Chicago
study, a few allergens were not detected as well. Those included Aspergillus
fumigatus, English plantain, oak tree, lamb’s quarter, and white ash tree. The
study was successful in detecting many major allergies, however, including
giant ragweed and Timothy-grass.
In some instances, a patient is
tested by directly exposing them to the allergen. This may be done through
having the patient inhale or ingest the substance in a controlled environment,
under direct supervision by a physician.
In some cases, the patient may engage
in a double-blind test, where the allergen is disguised within other
substances. The patient then tries a placebo and the allergen to determine if
the allergic reaction is mental or physical. While this can be effective, it
will require multiple visits if the patient is allergic to more than one
substance. It can also be more dangerous and should only be done under medical
Once you’ve completed allergy
testing, you will receive a detailed analysis of your allergens. This can help
a physician develop a course of treatment that may involve creating an
inoculation to help you begin the path to eliminating your allergy, as well as
avoiding the substance in your day-to-day life.