In the DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia area, we generally see the beginning of seasonal allergies as March arrives. This can vary due to the actual weather. But there’s no wrong time to get tested for allergies. However, patients often experience symptoms in early spring and wonder what’s causing them. So spring can be an excellent time to get screened for seasonal and other allergies.
What Causes Allergies?
Allergies occur when your immune system has an overreaction to certain substances in food, in the air or on your skin. Your immune system mistakes harmless substances for a health threat. Your body produces an immune response, leading to respiratory problems, GI conditions, rashes or other symptoms. Allergies can be airborne (outdoor/seasonal or indoor allergies to dust or pet dander) or found in food, medications or materials that come in contact with your skin. If you experience allergy symptoms, your primary care provider may want to conduct tests to determine the cause and offer treatment.
What Are Common Allergy Symptoms?
Symptoms are different for every patient and can range from mild respiratory symptoms from seasonal allergies to life-threatening anaphylaxis from some food allergies.
Common symptoms from airborne allergies include:
- Itchy, water eyes
- Sneezing, runny nose and congestion
- Sore throat
- Coughing or shortness of breath.
Symptoms of food allergies include:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain
- Itching or swelling in the face, lips or tongue
- Respiratory symptoms, including wheezing, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest or throat
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or a weak pulse
- Anaphylaxis can occur in severe food allergies. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction caused by an excessive immune system response that can cause low blood pressure and breathing problems.
What Is the Best Way to Test for Allergies?
Your primary care provider will start with a skin test in most cases. Your provider exposes your body to various allergens by pricking your skin and looking for a response. Usually, the reaction manifests in itchy red bumps. Skin tests are generally safe for patients of all ages, including babies and children. However, in some cases, even the low dose used in a skin test can cause a severe reaction. So it’s essential to complete all testing at your provider’s office.
Skin tests are effective for
- Food allergies
- Airborne allergies, including pollen, pet dander and dust mites.
- Hay fever
- Insect bites and stings
Under some circumstances, your doctor may recommend a blood test that measures the levels of antigens to allergy-causing substances in your blood. Blood tests may work best in the following circumstances:
- If you’ve already had a severe allergic reaction to a specific substance.
- If you take medications that could interfere with test results, including antihistamines, some antidepressants and some heartburn medications, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How Can I Treat My Allergies?
There are several effective approaches to treating allergies:
Avoiding allergens is often the required practice with food allergies. Ongoing testing is essential since young children may outgrow some food allergies as they age. For patients with an anaphylactic reaction to certain foods, your provider often recommends carrying an epinephrine injector (EpiPen).
Medications are often an effective solution for airborne allergies. They include:
- Oral antihistamines to block histamines, the chemicals your body releases as part of an immune response. Many antihistamines are common over-the-counter medications, including Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra and others.
- Oral decongestants
- Nasal sprays to treat symptoms, including runny nose and sneezing
- Antihistamine eye drops
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy) are an excellent option for seasonal and indoor allergies and insect stings. Immunotherapy involves regular injections containing a small amount of the allergen–enough to create an immune response but not trigger an allergic reaction. The idea is to create immunity over time and reduce symptoms, especially if medications aren’t working effectively or cause unwanted side effects.
Your Primary Care Provider And Allergy Testing
‘Tis the season for seasonal allergies–and an excellent time to get tested if you have concerns about other potential allergies. Comprehensive Primary Care offers a full range of allergy testing and a holistic approach to treatment, including immunotherapy. As your primary care home, we’re at your service for ongoing testing and monitoring as your symptoms evolve. We’ll help you identify allergens and find the best treatment, allowing you to live your best and healthiest life.