Spring might be the most common time of year that people believe they are affected by allergies, but truthfully, these can be impactful all year long. Most people have some degree of sensitivity to pollen and flora, so when trees turn green, grass grows, and flowers bloom it affects a wider degree of individuals. As spring is prime time for this, it explains why the season is so tied to allergies.
Those blossoming plants aren’t the only things that stimulate allergies, though: dust, pet dander, certain foods, and even certain chemicals affect a vast population and are more constant throughout the year. Everything from perfume to household cleaner has the potential to cause an allergic response.
Allergies are defined as an immune response the body creates as a reaction to a substance it is extra sensitive to. The degree to which the body reacts varies between individuals and allergens. On the less severe side the allergen could cause mild symptoms like itching or sneezing. Extremely severe reactions include anaphylaxis, which is when the reaction is so bad that the airway constricts and can suffocate someone to the point of death. The same person could have a very minor reaction to pollen, but a very severe response to strawberries.
Normally, when your body detects a foreign substance that can be harmful, it creates antibodies, which are specialized proteins, to help combat the invader. In the case of allergies, your body mistakenly identifies a harmless substance such as grass or dairy, marks it as “bad,” and creates antibodies to fight against it. Each time that substance is encountered, the body perceives it as harmful and mounts an attack with the antibodies, which release chemicals known as histamines. Histamines are what cause symptoms associated with allergies including itching, tingling, sneezing, and rash.
Allergies can be tested through either skin tests or blood tests. With skin tests, the body is exposed to the allergen being tested through a small pinprick to the skin. This is monitored for a reaction, typically a raised bump or rash at the site of the needle. If being tested for a wide variety of allergies, this may be done over a large area of the body in a grid, with each square being exposed to a different substance.
Blood testing for allergies, known as Specific IgE, is where a blood sample is sent to a lab to check for Immunoglobulin E antibody levels which indicate reactivity to an allergen. Separate portions of the blood sample are individually tested against different allergens to monitor for the response. There are now home testing kits available where you can collect a sample and send it off without having to go to a doctor’s office.
The best allergy test kit is one that is comprehensive – testing for a wide range or potential allergens. It should also have clear instructions and be easy to use. Any allergy test kit should include the common sensitivities such as grass, pet dander and dust mites.
Seasonal allergies, which are usually associated with pollen, are believed to affect around 8% of the population in the United States.
Depending on the needs of the person and medical history, treatment for allergies varies. Some people take over the counter medications to reduce their body’s response to allergens – this is medication like Claritin or Allegra, which are antihistamines. Others may require prescription medications, and those with extreme allergies may carry an Epi-pen, which is an injection they can use if exposed to an allergen that would cause an anaphylactic response. In this case, the injection would need to be administered immediately following the exposure.
Some allergies may respond to injections used to reduce the histamine reaction created by exposure. There are even some medical professionals who specialize in allergy desensitization, which is medically monitored exposure to allergens beginning in very small doses and building up the level of exposure in hopes of getting the body used to that substance. This must be done under close medical supervision in case of a life-threatening anaphylactic response.
Starting with a home allergy test kit is an easy way to begin exploring what substances could be impacting your daily life. Knowing what your body is more likely to react to gives a better idea of what should be avoided in daily life. Depending on the results, it may be beneficial to see an allergist for specific treatment recommendations.
No one should suffer from allergies if they have the option and ability to test for specific causes and obtain treatment – life’s too short to spend it sneezing and itchy.
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