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Feature:
Managing Allergies

Allergy Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis

Testing for Allergies

Knowing exactly what you are allergic to can help you lessen or prevent exposure and treat your reactions. There are several tests to pinpoint allergies:

  • Allergy skin tests—Allergy skin testing is considered the most sensitive testing method and provides rapid results. The most common test is the "prick test," which involves pricking the skin with the extract of a specific allergen, then observing the skin's reaction.
  • Serum-specific IgE antibody testing—These blood tests provide information similar to allergy skin testing.

Treatment

For allergy sufferers, the best treatment is to avoid the offending allergens altogether. This may be possible if the allergen is a specific food, like peanuts, which can be cut out of the diet, but not when the very air we breathe is loaded with allergens, such as ragweed pollen. Various over-the-counter or prescription medications can relieve symptoms.

  • Antihistamines. These medications counter the effects of histamine, the substance that makes eyes water and noses itch and causes sneezing during allergic reactions. Sleepiness was a problem with the oldest antihistamines, but the newest drugs do not cause such a problem.
  • Nasal steroids. These anti-inflammatory sprays help decrease inflammation, swelling, and mucus production. They work well alone and, for some people, in combination with antihistamines; in recommended doses, they are relatively free of side effects.
  • Cromolyn sodium. A nasal spray, cromolyn sodium can help stop hay fever, perhaps by blocking release of histamine and other symptom-producing chemicals. It has few side effects.
  • Decongestants. Available in capsule and spray form, decongestants may reduce swelling and sinus discomfort. Intended for short-term use, they are usually used in combination with antihistamines. Long-term usage of spray decongestants can actually make symptoms worse, while decongestant pills do not have this problem.
  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) might provide relief for patients who don't find relief with antihistamines or nasal steroids. Allergy shots alter the body's immune response to allergens, thereby helping to prevent allergic reactions. They are the only form of treatment that can induce long-lasting protection for several years after therapy is stopped. Current immunotherapy treatments are limited because of potential allergic reactions; rarely, these can be severe.

Is It a Cold or an Allergy?


Symptoms

Cold

Airborne Allergy

Cough

Common

Sometimes

General Aches, Pains

Slight

Never

Fatigue, Weakness

Sometimes

Sometimes

Itchy Eyes

Rare or Never

Common

Sneezing

Usual

Usual

Sore Throat

Common

Sometimes

Runny Nose

Common

Common

Stuffy Nose

Common

Common

Fever

Rare

Never

Duration

3 to 14 days

Weeks (for example, 6 weeks for ragweed or grass pollen seasons)

Treatment

Cold

Airborne Allergy

 

Antihistamines

Decongestants

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines

Antihistamines

Nasal steroids

Decongestants

Prevention

Cold

Airborne Allergy

 

Wash your hands often with soap and water.

Avoid close contact with anyone with a cold.

Avoid those things that you are allergic to, such as pollen, house dust mites, mold, pet dander, cockroaches.

Complications

Cold

Airborne Allergy

 

Sinus infection

Middle ear infection

Asthma exacerbation

Sinus infection

Asthma exacerbation

Read More "Managing Allergies" Articles

How to Control Your Seasonal Allergies / Allergy Diagnosis and Treatment / Seasonal Allergy Research at NIH

Spring 2013 Issue: Volume 8 Number 1 Page 24