About 20% of Americans suffer from allergies to foods, pollen, spores and airborne pollution. While most allergies are not life threatening, they can be very annoying and it can be difficult to determine what is triggering them. Physicians who specialize in allergies can determine the triggers through tests and help allergy sufferers find solutions to the annoying and sometimes embarrassing symptoms.
Allergy testing is a little like the TB test. The skin is pricked with a fine needle that contains a tiny amount of a substance that is suspected of causing an allergic reaction. Usually the allergist will test up to ten or twelve substances at a time. If a patient is allergic to a substance, the skin will show a visible reaction. Pinpointing the substances which cause allergic reactions helps to determine the best course of treatment, either with medication or with vaccine-like shots or drops. In some cases the sufferer may be able to avoid the substance which causes the reaction. In other circumstances, a simple blood test can pin point the culprit.
While nasal allergies can be extremely annoying, some allergies, especially allergies to food or insect venom, can be life threatening. Anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction characterized by hives, swelling of the face and tongue and respiratory distress. Untreated, anaphylactic shock can be fatal in a very short time. Patients with severe allergies usually carry an injectable eppy pen, a single use syringe containing a dose of epinephrine, which will almost immediately reverse most of the symptoms of anaphylactic shock.
Nasal allergies are most often caused by pollen, mold and mildew spores, dust mites and airborne industrial particulates. Common food allergies include peanuts, tomatoes, strawberries, chocolate, nuts and shellfish. Insect venom from bees, wasps and hornets is another common trigger. The symptoms of allergies are caused when the immune system releases histamines in an attempt to rid the body of a perceived invader. Histamines case inflammation and dilation of blood vessels and they can also cause a drop in blood pressure resulting in symptoms like dizziness.
Treatment for Allergies
The most common type of treatment for nasal allergies is an antihistamine which prevents the release of histamines and therefore the allergy symptoms. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness which makes many sufferers reluctant to take them. Newer treatments include drops or shots which are administered over a 10 day to two week period. The shots and drops contain a small amount of the allergen and the repeated exposure to the substance causes the immune system to stop producing the histamine response. Anaphylactic shock is nearly always treated with injectable epinephrine.
Not all healthcare insurance plans cover the cost of allergy testing which can be expensive. However, many will cover the cost for the treatment of allergies including antihistamines, allergy shots and epinephrine. Since better treatments are available when the particular allergens can be determined, testing is a key to treatment. Allergy suffers who wish to have testing should contact a representative of their insurance carrier to find if the cost of testing is covered.