Over 50 million Americans suffer from allergy symptoms. For some, allergies last year round. Many people take over-the-counter medications as a quick fix to ease their symptoms, but if your allergies disrupt your everyday life, it might be time to see an allergist.
What is an Allergist and what do they do?
Allergists (or immunologists) are specialists that are able to diagnose and treat different types of allergies (skin, food, allergic rhinitis, etc.), asthma, and sinus infections. Diagnosing allergies typically involves either skin or blood tests.
How do allergy tests work?
Skin tests are the most common type of allergy tests. A needle containing a small amount of an allergen pricks your skin to see if there is any type of reaction indicating an allergy. For children, the test is administered on the upper back while adults receive it on the forearm.
The most common allergens tested are:
- Pet dander
- Dust mites
Skin tests aren’t painful and the needle used only just penetrates the surface of the skin. The test site is cleaned with alcohol and small marks are then drawn onto the skin to indicate which allergens have been applied. If you are allergic to any of the allergens tested, an itchy, raised bump will show up on the skin and indicate an allergy.
Blood tests are another allergy test if skin tests aren’t an option. Blood tests are able to find and measure allergen-specific antibodies within your blood. Allergy blood tests are particularly useful when diagnosing food allergies. They also screen for at least 10 most common allergens (pollen, dust, grasses, weeds, pet dander, and regional molds).
It’s important to get the right types of tests done with a doctor’s exam and not store bought tests. Incorrect testing can be a waste of money and provide incorrect results.
What are treatment options?
Treatment options depend on the severity and type of allergies you have. Allergists will likely have you do the following:
- Avoid allergens– Knowing what causes your allergies and taking measures to avoid or eliminate allergens helps limit symptoms. Changing habits, reducing dust, discussing how to lessen exposure to mold and outdoor pollens. HEPA filters help cut down on allergens by removing at least 99.97% of allergens.
- Medications– There are various allergy medications to fit your specific needs and lifestyle.
- Immunotherapy– This treatment helps the immune system build up a tolerance to allergens. It can be injected or given as drops. The dosage gradually increases each time to help your body become more accustomed to the allergen and create blocking antibodies.
Immunotherapy is the best long-term solution for allergies, especially if your triggers are unavoidable, or over-the-counter medications have negative and unwanted side effects.
Why and when should I see one?
If your allergies are long-lasting or over-the-counter antihistamines aren’t helping, then an allergist can help find a solution to stop allergy symptoms from disrupting your life. You should also see an allergist if your allergies are causing sinus and ear infections.