If you suffer from seasonal allergies, the advent of spring may strike fear in your heart. Whether you get a stuffy nose, watery eyes, or sneezing and wheezing, the condition can make it a miserable time of year. But pollen and airborne allergens aren’t the only culprits. Allergies come in many types, and the symptoms range from mild to life-threatening.
To help you understand how we diagnose and treat allergies at Premier Primary Care in Union City, Tennessee, our team of medical experts, led by Dr. James Batey, has compiled this guide that explains the process.
If you experience allergy symptoms, you can thank your immune system. It’s designed to mount an attack whenever it detects a foreign invader. So, if there’s a lot of pollen or pollution in the air or strong perfumes or chemicals, your immune system may respond as if it were under siege.
Most people can filter and process these substances without a problem. However, if your immune system perceives them as hostile, it sends chemical “soldiers” to the scene to fight back, often resulting in undesired side effects like sneezing and itching.
Likewise, if something touches your skin that your immune system doesn’t like, it responds by sending antibodies to the rescue. There are many possible types of allergens and many varied responses, so getting an accurate diagnosis is critical.
Allergy diagnostics: step 1
Before running any tests, we do a thorough physical exam and talk with you about your symptoms. We ask you:
- How frequently they occur
- How severe they are
- How long they last
- What triggers them
- What relieves them
Then we check the affected areas, such as your skin, nose, throat, ears, or lungs. We also talk to you about your family’s medical history, any medications and supplements you’re taking, and products you use.
Allergy diagnostics: step 2
The information we gather from our conversation and physical exam lets us know which types of allergies are likely in your case. Since allergens can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, we test for the types that best fit your symptoms.
Once we’ve narrowed down the potential allergens, we may administer the scratch test, which involves placing a small sample of the possible allergen onto your skin and lightly scratching or poking the surface with a sterile needle.
If you’re allergic to the substance, we see a reaction within about 15 minutes. You may develop a small welt or a red rash if you’re allergic to that substance. If nothing happens, it’s safe to assume that you’re not allergic to that substance, but if you have any reaction at all, it lets us know that we’re onto something.
The scratch test can’t tell us how severe your allergy is, and it may not be definitive, but it does allow us to investigate further and help you avoid the substance.
Some people, especially children, don’t easily tolerate the scratch test. Also, certain medications may interfere with your body’s reaction to the scratch test. In these cases, we may opt for a blood test instead.
Here, we draw a small sample of blood, add a bit of the suspected allergen to it, and analyze the reaction. This is called Specific IgE blood testing, and it measures the antibodies your blood has produced to fight against the allergen. Although it’s not as accurate as the scratch test, it provides valuable information for further investigation.
The allergy treatment that’s right for you depends on the type and severity of your allergy, as well as your unique tolerances and other medical conditions. Often, over-the-counter medications are all it takes to bring occasional relief, whether it’s an antihistamine or a topical solution. Beyond that, there are four main categories of allergy treatments:
Avoiding the cause of your allergy
Once you know what causes your allergic reaction, whether it’s a particular type of soap, dust or pet dander, or peanuts, you can avoid those triggers and avoid the reaction altogether.
When OTC medications fail, you may need a stronger dose. Dr. Batey can prescribe the right medication at the right dosage to bring you relief from your worst symptoms.
Also known as allergy shots, immunotherapy works like vaccines. We inject you with a small sample of the allergen over months or even years to help your immune system develop a stronger defense against the culprit.
Certain allergic responses can threaten your life and call for fast-acting, potent medication on the spot. Emergency epinephrine, commonly referred to under the brand name the EpiPen®, delivers life-saving medication in an instant shot to those at risk for anaphylaxis, which is when your immune system floods your body with allergen-fighting chemicals, and you go into shock.
This can happen with any severe allergy, such as bee stings, nut allergies, venom, and latex. If you’re at risk for these dangerous reactions, keeping a dose of emergency epinephrine with you at all times can save your life.
To learn more about allergies and the treatments that can help you live with them comfortably and safely, contact us by phone or online to book an appointment. Our experienced team is here to help.