If you have recently had an allergic reaction, then you are among a growing number of Americans who suffer from immune systems that simply care too much for their well being. That’s right, your allergic reaction is the result of an overactive or hypersensitive immune system.
Understanding an Allergic Reaction
In the name of guarding against harmful agents such as bacteria and viruses that could make you ill, your immune system targeted harmless substances such as cedar pollen or peanuts just the same. The uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms you may have experienced during your allergic reaction were your body’s attempt at keeping you well.
There is no cure for allergies such as hay fever, which is also known as allergic rhinitis, so treatment is prevention-centered and focused on reducing and managing symptoms. If you know already what allergens triggered your allergic reaction, then you may want to avoid them in the future. You may also consider making an appointment with an allergist, a physician who specializes in immune system disorders. An allergist can determine whether further testing for other allergies should be explored and whether you need medication to control your allergies and symptoms. If your reaction was more serious and perhaps landed you in the emergency room, you may require emergency medication, such as an epinephrin injector (EpiPen), to carry with you.
Testing Your Allergic Reaction
The following are some common tests your allergist may recommend to isolate your triggers and determine your treatment needs without putting you at risk for another reaction:
- Skin prick test
Some mild allergic responses, such as sneezing, watery eyes, or congestion commonly associated with seasonal or indoor allergies and hay fever (or allergic rhinitis), are managed easily enough with medication. They are often tested for with a simple skin prick test in your allergist’s office. According to the Mayo Clinic, these puncture or scratch tests can identify as many as 40 different allergens at once. Adult testing usually takes place on the forearm, and pediatric testing is located on the upper back.
During the test, the area is cleaned and then pricked with tiny needles that inject small amounts of various allergen extracts just under the surface of the skin. You will receive one prick for each allergen being tested plus a few pricks to test control substances. You may experience discomfort, redness, swelling, or itching associated with certain pricks. These responses will be monitored and measured every few minutes to test your reactivity. Puncture tests are typically used for testing indoor allergies such as dust mites, cockroaches, mold, and animal dander. They can also identify pollen and certain food allergens with accuracy.
- Intradermal injection test
To test your reactivity to insect venom or penicillin, your allergist may recommend an intradermal test. A small amount of venom or penicillin will be shallowly injected into your arm. The site will be monitored and measured periodically. This 15-minute test is similar to venom immunotherapy, in which a gradually increasing amount of venom is routinely injected over the course of a few years. The idea is that as the amount of extract is increased, your tolerance will build. The Cleveland Clinic states that venom immunotherapy is more than 97% effective in preventing future allergic reactions to insect stings. Intradermal testing may impose a higher risk of allergic reaction—especially when used for food allergies.
- Patch Test
Contact dermatitis or skin allergic reactions that commonly result from latex, nickel, or fragrance and cosmetic allergies are often tested with a skin patch test. For the patch test, allergen extracts are placed on an adhesive patch that you will wear on your arm or back. This test takes 48 hours, so you will go home wearing the patch. You will also have to avoid bathing, swimming, or sweating excessively. After 48 hours, your doctor will measure your responses. Patch tests can produce false positives and false negatives.
- Blood test
There are two main blood tests used for allergy testing: the Radioallergosorbent (RAST) test and the Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test. Both assess the amount of allergen-specific antibodies in your blood and are useful in determining food allergens. Antibodies are the proteins in the blood that your immune system produces when it perceives a substance or allergen to be harmful. Antibodies, also called immunoglobulins (IgE), act as guards waiting and watching for those allergens. When you have an increased number of antibodies or markers for a certain allergen, it can be assumed that you have developed a sensitivity to it. The test involves drawing blood and testing in a laboratory.?
Avoiding Another Allergic Reaction
Aside from avoidance of triggers, taking medication to suppress reactivity or relieve symptoms, and taking precautions for life-threatening allergic emergencies, you may want to consider finding a support group. Managing food allergies especially can be overwhelming and there is a lot to learn about understanding food labeling too. Having others around to learn from and lean on for support is a good idea.
If your child has allergies, you will want to familiarize yourself with the school’s protocol for allergic reactions and ensure precautions are taken to protect your child in the classroom and cafeteria. Medical ID bracelets can quickly inform bystanders and medics during emergencies. Some parents opt to dress their children in specially made T-shirts that announce an allergy, (“Don’t give me peanuts!”) on the first day of school, field trip days, or when the child might be under the supervision of a new caregiver. Educating yourself, consulting with your physician, and communicating with others about medical plans is the best way to prevent and effectively handle allergic reactions.