What are allergies?
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a substance that is not typically harmful to human beings. Substances known to trigger an allergic reaction are called allergens. There is a broad range of allergens that can trigger a reaction and a number of ways we can come into contact with those allergens such as inhaling, touching, and eating.
The primary way allergies cause problematic symptoms is by producing inflammation. When your body comes into contact with an allergen, it identifies it as a threat which then activates its response system. This response system is intended to protect the body from potentially harmful substances. The body creates allergic antibodies, called immunoglobulin E (IgE) which target and eliminate the allergen. It does this by causing cells to release chemicals like histamine into the bloodstream. This overreaction to a harmless allergen creates the symptoms we associate with allergies: itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, scratchy throat, swelling, hives, stomach, vomiting, difficulty breathing etc.
What are some common allergens?
People are exposed to these types of allergens through the air, meaning they are inhaled. The most common types of airborne allergies include:
- Pollen: the most pervasive type of allergy, also known as hay fever. Pollen is a substance that is released by trees to fertilize other plants. This occurs seasonally, producing seasonal allergies (spring being the season with the highest pollen count).
- Molds: mold is a type of fungi that grows in indoor and outdoor spaces that retain more moisture (bathrooms, basements, trash piles etc.).
- Animal Dander: the skin and hair that pets shed as well as their saliva can also be the source of allergens.
- Dust: dust mites are microscopic insects that are part of the dust that accumulates in homes or apartments.
How does allergy testing work?
There are two primary approaches to allergy testing: blood tests and skin tests. Blood testing works by drawing a sample of your blood and sending it to a lab. Technicians examine the sample for antibodies.
Skin testing is a more common approach. This diagnostic tool works by creating a very small prick or scratch on the surface of your skin and then placing a tiny volume of a potential allergen in that area. If you are allergic to the tested substance, your body will react, and visible skin irritation will occur.
Skin testing is not painful, and many different substances can be screened for during one appointment. Another form of skin testing requires you to wear a small patch impregnated with potential allergens on your back for a couple of days to see if an allergic response occurs.
Once the Otolaryngology Associates, LLC team has determined which allergens trigger your immune system response, they can devise a customized treatment plan to help. That plan might involve medications, immunotherapy, and learning optimal preventive strategies.