What is an allergy? An allergy is actually an inappropriate reaction of the body’s immune system. It mistakenly identifies harmless things, such as pollens, molds, or pet dander as something that is harmful. It then rallies the body’s defenses to attack these harmless things and sets off a cascade of events known as “allergy.”
What are the symptoms of allergy? The classic symptoms to look for include sneezing, runny/itchy eyes and nose, and congestion. Sometimes these symptoms can mimic the common cold, but cold symptoms are usually gone in a week or two, whereas allergies will usually last longer. Allergy can also cause skin conditions, such as hives and eczema.
Your doctor can often help make the diagnosis based on your symptoms and your physical exam. However, if more information is needed, allergy testing can be done. Allergy tests can also help guide your treatment.
Dr. Harrison will help decide if allergy testing would be beneficial for you, based on your particular situation. However, testing can be especially helpful when trying to discover what triggers to avoid, as well as predicting whether allergy shots/drops (immunotherapy) might be helpful.
There are two main types of allergy testing: skin testing and blood tests. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks, but both can be very helpful in guiding the treatment of your allergies. Most doctors feel that the information we get from these two types of tests are equally accurate and useful.
- Skin testing involves placing small amounts of substances under the skin, either by prick or injection, and then watching the skin for a hive-like reaction. A full testing session can last a little over an hour, but the results are known immediately. If necessary (especially with children), creams to numb the skin prior to the testing session can be used.
- Blood tests have the advantage of requiring only one stick to draw a few tubes of blood which are then sent off to a lab. While it is quicker (and sometimes better tolerated by children), it is also a little more expensive, and it takes a couple of weeks to get the results back.
Every person’s allergy treatment plan is individualized, based on symptoms and the impact allergies are having on daily life. Many times allergies can be looked at like a combination lock—several different combinations of treatments may need to be tried to find the key combination to best control a person’s allergies.
Some mainstays of treatment include:
- Avoidance: Getting the things that trigger a person’s allergies out of the environment. This may include steps such as removing carpet, using air purifiers, duct cleaning, and minimizing contact with pets, if appropriate.
- Medications: There are many types of medicines available to help control allergy symptoms, including pills, nasal sprays and eye drops. Dr. Harrison can help tailor a plan specific to your body’s needs.
- Allergy Serum (Immunotherapy): Allergy serum is made up of purified extracts of the substances that trigger allergies, and is mixed individually for each patient based upon the results of allergy tests. Allergy serum is typically started at a low dose, and the strength is gradually increased over time. This is thought to modify your body’s immune system response to the offending substances. In many patients, the serum offers the chance to live without medications, and the results can be permanent. However, the use of Allergy Immunotherapy is a long commitment, usually at least five years.
There are two ways to get allergy serum:
- Allergy Injections: Usually patients come to the office once a week for their “allergy shot.” This can be given at our office or the office of your primary physician. Once the buildup phase is complete, it is possible for some patients to give their own injections at home.
- Allergy Drops: The allergy serum in the form of drops is placed under the tongue. Advantages of this route include NO NEEDLES, and the fact that the drops are administered at home from the start. There is no need to go to the doctor’s office weekly. Two major disadvantages are: the drops must be given daily (instead of weekly for shots) and insurance does not cover the cost of drops.