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September 15, 2020 • read
Allergists treat more than you think
Whether it’s spring sniffles or the fall flu, most of us find ourselves under the weather at some point each year. 25% of Canadians get hay fever annually, and managing symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose, and coughing is a big challenge. Intense allergy sufferers often find that over-the-counter medication doesn’t provide relief. If you’re one of those people, it’s probably time for you to see an allergist.
Allergists are doctors that specialize in treating people with environmental or hereditary sensitivities. And while it’s common to see them for cold symptoms or respiratory troubles, that’s not all they can treat.
From food sensitivities to rash prevention, allergists can help you discover what your body reacts to poorly before you have a reaction. They’re able to treat a range of conditions, and can teach you what to avoid so you can keep operating at your best. Here’s a look at the types of tests allergists do, and the conditions they can help you overcome.
What types of tests do allergists do?
There are two common tests that allergists perform: skin tests and blood tests.
Skin tests, sometimes called patch tests, prick tests or scratch tests, are tests done to your skin to gauge your body’s reaction to allergens. An allergen is a substance that could cause an allergic reaction in someone with a sensitivity to it. During the test, a small amount of the allergen is applied to your skin. If the area swells or reddens, you’re likely allergic.
Another way to find out if you have an allergy is through a blood test. Allergists look for immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE are antibodies that your body produces when your immune system perceives a threat. When you have allergies, your body produces IgE in reaction to things that aren’t actually dangerous, like pollen from flowers, or animal dander. An allergist can measure the total amount of IgE in your blood to make a general diagnosis about whether or not your symptoms are part of an allergic reaction. They can also get specific, and test your blood for its reaction to a particular allergen.
What kind of illnesses can allergists treat?
Everyone’s body is different. Your tolerance for certain allergens may range. Allergists can help you get to the bottom of mild symptoms, like indigestion after eating dairy. They can also test you for severe allergies, and prevent life-threatening reactions. Here are some conditions an allergist can help with.
A sinus infection is when your sinuses — which start above your brow and run down your nose on either side of your face — become inflamed. This leads to fluid buildup, which results in congestion and a runny nose. Sinus infections are most often caused by viruses like the common cold, or allergens like pet dander. If you find yourself constantly battling sinus irritation, even when you don’t have other cold symptoms, an allergist can help figure out the cause.
Eye inflammation caused by an allergic reaction is called allergic conjunctivitis. Allergens irritate the membrane on the outer surface of your eye and cause itching, swelling, and redness. Sometimes this happens to people seasonally, and they can predict when their eyes will be affected. For others it’s more spontaneous. It could happen in reaction to contact with dust mites, or cosmetics that contain allergens. Finding the source of the irritation will teach you which ingredients to avoid.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction. When it happens your immune system goes into attack mode, releasing a flood of chemicals to eliminate an allergen intruder. The reaction dilates your airways, making it suddenly difficult to breathe. People who have allergies that put them at risk for going into anaphylactic shock should carry an epi pen. It contains epinephrine, and can bring your body out of the reaction by increasing your blood pressure. That calms your pulse and reopens your airways.
Anaphylaxis is a common reaction to peanut or shellfish allergies. It’s possible to detect these allergies before an attack with a skin prick test.
For the three million Canadians who have asthma, environmental sensitivities can be a real danger. Asthma attacks can be brought on by allergens like pollen, pet dander, dust mites, or food sensitivities. This is known as allergy-induced asthma.
Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes a lot of the same symptoms as the common cold. But the sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and sinus pain aren’t caused by the cold virus. They’re induced by allergens. Hay fever can happen to anyone, but you usually get it for the first time when you’re young. There are different allergens common during spring, summer, and fall that contribute to hay fever, making it possible to develop symptoms year-round. A visit with an allergist can help you determine whether the illness you’re experiencing is a viral cold, or hay fever brought on by allergens.
You can learn a lot about your health through your skin. Itchy skin can be an indication of a wide range of intolerances, from food sensitivity to an allergy to chemicals in household products. Through skin tests or examining your rash, an allergist can determine whether your diet or environment are causing symptoms on your skin.
Food allergies affect approximately 6% of young children and 4% of adults in western countries like Canada. Some food allergies are life threatening, so they should be taken seriously. A trip to the allergist can help you catch food allergies early. This can be especially useful for little ones who are about to start school for the first time. Knowing of any allergies early will help keep kids safe while they’re away from home.
Your unique physical makeup, hereditary traits, and environmental exposure all influence your body’s tolerance to allergens. Through tests, you can narrow down a list of sensitivities unique to your makeup and get to the bottom of nerve-wracking allergic reactions. For perennial allergy sufferers, our allergists can strategize symptom management to keep you feeling your best year round.