What are allergies?
An allergic reaction occurs when a particle (pollen, certain foods, etc.) called an allergen attaches to certain cells in your nose, throat, intestines, etc. and causes a certain effects. These effects are the symptoms we associate with allergies—runny nose, sneezing, post-nasal drip, itchy water eyes, gastrointestinal upset, rashes or hives, etc.
How do I get rid of my allergies?
Most treatments for allergies are aimed at preventing or minimizing symptoms. Steroid nasal sprays, antihistamines and other medical treatments work on different steps in the reaction of allergens and inflammatory cells to prevent certain chemicals (e.g., histamine) from being able to cause their effects and therefore, your symptoms.
The only method to cure allergy problems is via immunotherapy, which is designed to “train” your body to change how it reacts to those allergens it is sensitive to.
What is allergy testing?
The first step in treating allergies effectively is to accurately identify exactly which allergens are causing the problems. Traditionally, this was done with skin testing, where a small amount of allergen (e.g., ragweed extract, dust mite extract, etc.) was place just underneath the skin with a small needle. This was performed for the most common allergens and any other suspected allergens based on the patient’s history. Based on the amount of swelling and redness that formed, the patient’s was deemed “allergic” or not to each allergen. This technique was time consuming and uncomfortable patients but reliable and accurate.
Alternatively, in vitro testing (done in the lab, not on the patient) has become our standard testing method. Radio-Allergo-Sorbent Testing (RAST) involves drawing a vial of the patient’s blood , which is then sent to a laboratory that can determine which allergens the patient will cross-react to.