If you have allergies, you’re not alone. Roughly 50 million Americans experience some form of allergic disease, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Allergens are substances that can trigger allergic reactions. Common allergens include:
• Animal dander
• Food, such as the proteins in cow’s milk, peanuts, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts
• Insect stings
• Latex, a type of rubber
Allergies are the result of a chain reaction that starts in your immune system. Your immune system overreacts to allergens, causing your body to produce antibodies, called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells and release chemicals causing and allergic reaction.
If you have allergies, treatments are available. Options include medications, allergy shots, and avoiding substances that trigger your symptoms. It’s important to begin treating symptoms before they start and continue treatment regularly during allergy season. Discuss the following with your doctor so that you can work together to find the most effective form of relief.
To help your doctor determine if you have an allergy, share your personal and family medical history. For example, have you or anyone in your family ever been allergic to anything?
Also, be specific about your symptoms. You might say, “My skin gets red and itchy, especially behind my knees, when it’s humid outside. It lasts for several weeks.” Or, “I’m sneezing a lot and my eyes feel swollen, but it doesn’t feel like I have a cold.”
Allergy symptoms may include:
• Difficulty breathing
• Hives (itchy, red bumps on the skin)
• Itchy nose, eyes, or roof of your mouth
• Itchy, peeling, flaky skin
• Stuffy or runny nose
In severe cases, an allergy can cause anaphylaxis—a serious allergic reaction that can cause shortness of breath, throat tightness, anxiety, vomiting, diarrhea, even death.
Your Testing Options
Your doctor may refer you to an allergist for testing. Allergists have advanced training to properly diagnose and treat allergies. Specific tests, such as an X-ray, a lung-function test, skin test, or allergy blood test may be used to help determine the exact cause of your symptoms.
Your Treatment Plan
If test results show that you do have an allergy, your doctor can help you develop a treatment plan. This may include staying away from the allergen to avoid a reaction. For example, if tests show that you are allergic to lactose, your doctor may urge you to stop drinking milk.
For some allergies, it may not be enough, or even possible, to stay away from the cause. In that case, your doctor may recommend medicine to improve your symptoms and your quality of life. Medications commonly used to treat allergy symptoms include over the counter antihistamines, nasal sprays, eye drops and itch creams. Your physician may also choose to treat you with prescription medications to use alone or in combination with over the counter products.
Allergy shots, which contain small amounts of an allergen, may also be an option. They work like a vaccine to slowly reduce your symptoms by steadily increasing your tolerance to an allergen.
“AAAAI Allergy & Asthma Drug Guide.” American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/drug-guide.
“Allergic Reactions: Tips to Remember.” American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/allergic-reactions.aspx.
“Allergies,” American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.” www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies.aspx.
“Allergy Shots (immunotherapy).” American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/allergy-shots-(immunotherapy).aspx.
“Allergy Treatment.” American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. www.acaai.org/ALLERGIST/ALLERGIES/TREATMENT/Pages/default.aspx.