Seasonal allergies are the most common type of allergy, but there are many types of allergies that can trigger an assortment of reactions. Even if you have an idea of what may be causing your sneezing, itching, or watery eyes, allergy testing may be necessary to narrow down or confirm a source, especially when symptoms are vague or characteristic of multiple allergy sources. The results can also be used to determine what treatments will likely manage symptoms and what triggers to avoid.
There is no cure for seasonal allergies. People with allergies of this nature may have symptoms relegated to a specific season or they may be affected by various allergens throughout the year. Pollen from blooming flowers, grass clippings, and weeds is a common trigger of spring and summer allergies. Approximately 25 million Americans are allergic to various types of pollen from trees, weeds, and flowers. Mold and dust mites are among the hidden allergy triggers that are often a source of fall and winter allergies. Exposure increases as people begin spending more time indoors. Additional respiratory allergies include:
- Hay fever
- Pollen allergies
- Pet allergies (dogs and cats mostly)
It can be difficult to determine if symptoms are due to intolerance of specific foods or ingredients or an allergy since symptoms (hives, rash, watery eyes) can be similar. Common food allergies are specific to milk, eggs, nuts, shellfish, soy products, and wheat. Some food allergies are linked to certain proteins, such as casein, a protein found in milk.
Skin allergies are characterized by some type of reaction on the surface of the skin when a certain trigger is applied to the skin. An example is the reaction people often have after coming in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. The allergic reaction is due to the oils in these plants. Other skin-based allergies include:
- Hives (swelling under the skin)
- Reactions to insect stings
- Sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation (sun exposure)
- Cosmetic allergies
Aspirin and penicillin are the two most common types of drug-related allergy triggers, although people may have reactions to other medications. It can sometimes be a process of elimination to determine the specific medication causing the allergic reaction if an individual is taking multiple medications.
Allergy Skin Testing
With skin testing, an area of the patient’s skin is exposed to common allergy triggers to determine which one is causing the patient’s symptoms. A patient’s medical history can help narrow down possible sources.
Diagnosing Allergies with Blood Tests
Determining a source of allergies may also involve blood testing to check for certain antibodies. A RAST (radioallergosorbent) test is a common type of blood test done to identify IgE (allergy-causing) antibodies. Blood tests can also be used to test for sensitivity to specific allergens.
Allergies are often treated with avoidance of identified triggers as much as possible. Over-the-counter and prescription medications can also help minimize reactions when exposed to allergens. Involving injections given over a period of time, immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be recommended to treat severe allergies. Emergency epinephrine may also be used to counter a severe reaction.
Some allergies like allergic conjunctivitis (pink eye) are highly treatable. Other types of allergies, such as seasonal allergies, may reach a point where symptoms are manageable, but there will always be the potential for symptoms to return at some point. The results of allergy tests can help your doctor make more precise treatment recommendations so allergies won’t be a major disruption to your life.