Article: Is It Allergy? Allergy testing and how to know if you are allergic by Dr. Leonard Fromer

 
Your nose is stuffy. You sneeze a lot. Itchy and watery eyes are driving you crazy. You're sure you have allergies. So you take antihistamines. Then you develop sinus problems, like ear pressure or pain and an annoying post-nasal drip - symptoms also associated with allergies. So you take decongestants, too.


For many, taking prescription or over-the-counter allergy medications can be expensive and unnecessary -- and may not relieve symptoms. A recent study out of Ohio State University found that 65 percent of the people using a prescription antihistamine didn't actually suffer from allergies at all.
While more than 50 million Americans of all ages suffer from allergy-like symptoms, the OSU study researchers and other experts recommend people get tested for allergies before medicating their symptoms.
Traditionally, allergy tests were performed by allergists using skin testing which involves pricking the skin to apply allergens, with a raised welt indicating sensitivity. Skin testing, however, carries the risk of an allergic reaction, and is not recommended for young children, seniors, those taking antihistamines, or those with dermatitis and other skin conditions.
Previously, allergy blood tests were less accurate than skin testing, but a new blood test, ImmunoCAP?, is not only as accurate as a skin test in determining specific allergies, it is the first and only allergy test approved by the FDA to test them quantitatively. Family physicians, pediatricians and allergy specialists can draw a blood sample that is analyzed in a laboratory. Health professionals then detect the presence of IgE, an antibody circulating in the blood when the body is fighting an allergen.
A recent study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that ImmunoCAP? demonstrated superior reliability and accuracy, compared to four other tests, including older blood tests known as RAST tests.
If you get tested and learn that you do suffer from allergies, it's likely you're allergic to a number of things. Triggers might include certain foods, pollen, pets, insect stings or even some medications. But, for many, allergy-like symptoms never occur until they move to a new region or grow older. Then suddenly symptoms develop, leaving them wondering why. That's because allergy is a threshold disease. Approximately 20 to 25 percent of the population has seasonal or chronic allergic respiratory disease. For many, symptoms don't appear without exposure to multiple allergic triggers.
Think of a single allergy as a half-cup of water. As new elements are added, the cup becomes more full. Allergy symptoms may not develop until you come in contact with that one thing that makes your cup overflow - you've reached your threshold.
Here in the North Atlantic region common tree allergens include elm, oak and box-elder, which may cause a reaction from February through June. Grasses in the area may trigger allergies throughout the summer and weeds, such as common ragweed, may cause a reaction from August to late October. If you're planning to travel, you can find more information pollens and allergens in other areas of the United States by visiting http://www.isitallergy.com. This website maps out the entire country by region and lists the environmental allergens in each area.
It's also helpful to keep a checklist of the allergen triggers that can launch your body into an attack. Take the necessary steps to remove the culprits from your home and work environments - particularly those to which you are highly allergic. Understand how to stay below your threshold by avoidance or medical therapy, and you'll be able to take control of your allergies - rather than letting them control your life.
The following simple tricks are recommended by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the Online Allergy Center to help you avoid common allergy triggers.
Pollen
* Minimize outdoor activities, like running and walking, during peak pollen hours (between 5 and 10 am).
* Don't line-dry clothes or bedding.
* Don't mow lawns or rake leaves - these activities stir up pollen and molds. If you must, wear a mask and sunglasses.
* Stay indoors when reports predict high pollen count or humidity, and on windy days when dust and pollen are blown about.
* If taking a vacation during the height of the pollen season, head to the beach or sea.
Mold:
* Check your car's weather-stripping or air conditioning
system for mold.
* Don't over-water or grow too many indoor plants; wet soil encourages mold growth.
* Check household drains for mold; look under frost-free refrigerators, air conditioner insulation, coils and drain pans, damp wood spots, and dusty, musty papers.
Dust:
* Drive with car windows closed and set your air conditioner on re-circulate. Vacuum your car often to minimize dust mite exposure.
* Keep home windows closed, especially at night. Use air conditioning to clean, cool and dry air - but change filters often.
* Wash bedding in hot water to kill dust mites and encase bedding in dust mite barrier covers.
Animals:
* Keep animals out of the bedroom and remove carpeting, if possible.
For more information, about how to test for allergies using the ImmunoCAP? blood test, physicians and patients can call 1-877-862-4948 or visit www.isitallergy.com.