What are Allergies and What is an Allergic Reaction?
Simply put, allergies and allergic reactions are your body’s immune system responding to something it thinks is attacking it.
When your immune system senses an allergen, such as pollen, it identifies the pollen as an “invader” and then your immune
system mounts a response. This response is your body overreacting and producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (or IgE). These antibodies then cause cells throughout your body to release other chemicals, causing the allergic reaction many are familiar with.
The only way to know for certain if you are allergic to something though is through allergy testing. While there are many forms of testing, there are only a handful we feel are the best and most comprehensive ways to diagnose whether you have allergies.
Most doctors and labs today may recommend blood testing for allergic screenings, but traditional allergic skin testing is the most direct and comprehensive way to diagnose allergies. The primary reason being we can get results within minutes and then immediately decide what course of action you should take, versus waiting up to two weeks for results to come in, then schedule another appointment, then determine the course of action.
How Do We Perform Our Allergic Skin Testing?
We use one of two methods to find out what you are allergic to. Both methods require a technician to apply a small amount of an extract to the skin and watch for a reaction.
Prick or Puncture Skin Testing
Generally this is the first screening that is done. We prick the skin, usually on the arm or upper back, with a small device that has the tip coated with a specific allergen.
Intra-dermal Skin Testing
This method is more sensitive, requiring injection of the allergen into the superficial layer of skin. If you have ever had a tuberculosis screening, this is very similar.
In both cases we are looking to see if your skin has a reaction to the allergen. Typically a reaction will appear within 15 to 20 minutes, and will resemble something along the lines of a mosquito bite.
What are the Side Effects of an Allergy Skin Test?
First, you should feel comfortable that in the vast majority of people, allergy testing is very well tolerated. There are some side effects that you should be aware of, but the most common reaction is itching and swelling right at the site of testing. The minor swelling and itching goes away within a couple of hours.
Some other side effects could include itching (of your eyes, nose, and throat), runny nose, hives, and in rare instances low blood pressure and shock. Again, these are rare situations and our staff is appropriately trained to help a patient with those types of reactions.
Allergy Treatment Options
The most effective long-term treatment for many people with allergies is allergy shots (also known as immunotherapy). The goal of immunotherapy is to increase your tolerance to specific allergens.
An allergy extract is a precise prescription based on your unique allergic sensitivities.
Although there is no cure for allergies, this is the closest thing to a cure that we have. Since this type of therapy does not contain medicine it is well suited for individuals interested in seeking a natural cure for allergies.
Immunotherapy is accomplished with a “build up” phase of small doses given at weekly intervals until a maintenance dose is achieved. This can last anywhere from six to twelve months and follows up with a maintenance phase of dosing with injections given at two or four week intervals.
A primary goal of immunotherapy is to instill lasting tolerance long after the course of immunotherapy is completed. For most patients, treatment will last between three to five years.