When your body’s defenses attack substances that are usually harmless, you have developed an allergy. In less developed countries, the antibody, Immunoglobulin E (IGE), activates an immune cascade, which normally protects humans from parasitic infections. However, in more modern environments, this component of the immune system has learned to recognize and attack the following harmless substances or “allergens”:
- Foods (seafood, grains, nuts, or dairy products)
- Medications (pain relievers such as aspirin or antibiotics)
- Insect bites /stings (wasps, bees, or hornets)
- Household goods (soaps, perfumes, hair care products)
- Airborne particles (pollen, mold, animal dander, or dust)
Upon ingestion, inhalation or skin contact, an allergic reaction is triggered by the allergen-IGE binding. This causes symptoms, which range from annoying to life threatening:
- Allergic Rhinitis or Hayfever: itchy, watery eyes; nasal congestion or stuffiness; runny nose or post- nasal drip; increased susceptibility to upper respiratory infections, such as inner ear infections or sinusitis
- Asthma: chest congestion, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue or chest tightness
- Skin: Hives, Angioedema (swelling), allergic eczema or atopic dermatitis
- Gastro-intestinal tract: diarrhea, cramping or constipation
- Anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction , associated with swelling in the mouth or throat, losing consciousness, diffuse itching, and/or breathing difficulties
To determine if, and to what, you or your child may be allergic, skin tests can be performed, to see if you have IGE to common, “usual suspect” allergens. Skin testing is sensitive, relatively painless and a very reliable method of making the diagnosis of allergies. Skin testing can be placed on the back or the arms, delivering an answer in twenty minutes.
Blood Tests for Allergies
This involves taking a prescription to a local laboratory and having blood drawn. Immunocap or RAST Allergy tests are sensitive but are also more expensive and the results are not available as rapidly as with skin tests. Blood tests are generally used when skin tests might be unsafe or will not work, such as if you are taking certain medications, such antihistamines, or have a skin condition that may interfere with skin testing.