What are allergies? What does it mean to have allergies? What symptoms do allergies cause?
Allergies can be a difficult and annoying problem …especially in Austin. There are several different types of allergy testing, and it is important to discuss with your healthcare provider which test is best for you. An allergy is an exaggerated response by your immune system to a substance that you inhaled, touched, or ate. For instance, if you have an allergy to cedar pollen, your immune system identifies the cedar pollen as an invader or allergen. Your immune system overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies trigger other immune cells to release chemicals that cause the allergic symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, rash, fever, and fatigue. Some people have severe reactions that can be life-threatening. These reactions are called anaphylaxis and are a separate topic. Anaphylaxis rarely occurs from inhaled or contact allergens. Allergy tests can give exact information about what you are, as well as what you are not, allergic to. Many people have allergy symptoms but do not have allergies. You need to know this, so you do not waste time and money on ineffective treatments.
What Categories of Allergies are Tested?
There are three main categories of allergies that we encounter: Respiratory, Food, and Contact Allergens.
Respiratory Allergens: The respiratory allergens usually are pollen, mold, cat dander, dog dander, etc. These allergens usually cause sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose, watery eyes, etc.
Food Allergens: The food allergens that are investigated are wheat, chicken, beef, shellfish, etc. These allergens usually cause symptoms such as rashes, fatigue, abdominal pain, and bowel changes.
Contact Allergens: The contact allergens are found in our environment, including soap, shampoo, skin care products, detergents, etc. They may cause many different types of rashes.
What Types of Allergy Tests are Offered?
- Prick Test: This test is used to identify respiratory allergens that may affect your eyes, ears, nose, and throat. A very small amount of allergens are put under your skin by making a small indentation or “prick” on the surface of your skin. The test is analyzed within the first two hours of the allergen exposure. If you are allergic to the allergen, swelling that looks and feels like a mosquito bite will occur at the site. It is very important to avoid all anti-histamines (Zyrtec, Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra, etc) for one week before having this test performed as they blunt your body’s reaction to the allergens.
- Patch Test: This test investigates contact allergens found in your environment. The test is performed over several days. It is started on Monday – several patches with environmental allergens are placed on your skin. You will return to the office on Wednesday where the skin will be analyzed by the nurse. Then, the test is analyzed again on Thursday for the last and official reading by the healthcare provider. The patch test helps you determine which chemicals are especially important for you to avoid. Unfortunately, the test results do not say, “Head and Shoulders” or “Aveeno.” Instead, it will tell you specific chemicals that you have to look for in all of your product labels under ingredients.
- Blood Test: This test involves drawing blood, and it is not considered as accurate as the skin test. However, it is quick and easy. It can be performed along with other blood tests. The blood test is not affected by any medications that you are taking. There are two versions of the blood test: respiratory and food allergens.
When is Allergy Testing Appropriate?
Allergy testing is very safe and appropriate for anyone who has allergy symptoms listed above (runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, rash, etc). Identifying allergens in order to reduce exposure can improve symptoms without medications. Sometimes, allergy testing is completely negative, meaning your symptoms are caused something other than allergens (Reflux, Nasal polyps, etc)
What do I do if I have symptoms of allergies, but I do not have any allergies?
Many people have chemical sensitivities that may not show up on routine allergy testing. Chemical sensitivities can cause many of the same symptoms as allergies, including runny nose, sore throat, irritated eyes, sneezing, abdominal pain, etc. They can also cause additional symptoms like chronic pain, fatigue, mental fog, and irregular bowel movements. People who suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned may benefit from chemical sensitivity testing.
What is chemical sensitivity testing?
Chemical sensitivity testing is performed with a simple blood draw. Your blood is sent to labs that specialize in chemical sensitivities.
Which chemical sensitivity tests do you offer?
- Alcat Test: The Alcat test is a detailed panel of sensitivities for over 150 food items and food additives. The lab equipment evaluates the electrical resistance produced by white blood cells suspended in liquid which, in turn, determines the level of sensitivity. This test is different than allergy panels because it does not test for IgE antibodies floating in the blood stream. You may have a food allergy that is not identified on the Alcat test as these are different methods of testing. Most insurance companies do not cover this test.
- Cyrex Array: The Cyrex array is a detailed panel of gluten sensitivity. This test evaluates the levels of IgG and IgA antibodies floating in your blood stream that react to the gluten and gluten-like foods. Not all gluten tests evaluate the same markers. The Cyrex array assesses gluten and the foods that are similar to gluten since they cross-react with gluten. For instance, wheat and barley are common gluten-containing foods, but foods like coffee, sesame, and casein protein (milk) do not have gluten. However, they can trigger gluten sensitivity reactions just like the real gluten proteins. Most insurance companies do not cover this test.