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Allergy alert: Should your family be tested?


SneezingForget the blooming trees outside. If one of the first signs of spring in your house is hacking, coughing and nose blowing, then you or a family member may have allergies. 

The jury is still out on whether the incidence of allergies is increasing. Some people believe an increase in environmental toxins may be causing a spike in allergies. But there is a definite consensus about what to do if you suspect an allergy.

Allergies explained
An allergy is an abnormal reaction that causes your body to produce antibodies, explains Dr. Chris Bressler, a family medicine physician at the Banner Health Center in Surprise, Ariz. Those antibodies can trigger reactions in your eyes, nose, lungs, skin and gastrointestinal tract.

You can try and detect the source of an allergy by trying to track the triggers.

“In other words, check to see if there is a pattern in what you eat or whether it’s when you’re in a certain environment,” says Dr. Bressler.

If you’ve been sneezing along with everyone else in your immediate family, you’re probably looking at a cold. If your nose has a mind of its own at the same time every year, it may be time to consider allergy testing.

Do keep in mind that some symptoms may be common. A dairy allergy may actually be lactose intolerance.

The case for testing
If you suspect an allergy, ask your primary care doctor to suggest an allergist, advises Dr. Bressler.

An allergist is trained to track down allergies, using special tests.

Typically there are two options for getting tested:

  • Skin prick or patch tests: These are fast and accurate as long as you haven’t taken antihistamines prior to having the test. Some of the allergen is scratched into the skin, and you can get results in as few as 15 to 20 minutes. The downside to these tests is that they can be itchy and uncomfortable.
  • Blood tests (radioallergosorbent or RAST). While blood tests were not considered as accurate as skin testing, they have improved in recent years. They can be more expensive than skin tests, but both are usually covered by insurance. Some allergists prefer blood tests for children because only one stick is required to draw blood, rather than pricks with many allergens for skin tests.

Treatment options
If you’re diagnosed with an allergy, your doctor will discuss different treatments that may include medications, nose sprays, allergen avoidance (such as mattress covers to limit exposure to dust mites) and allergy shots, which can take several years to build up immunity to the allergen.

While there is no specific cure for allergies, allergy shots help the most, says Dr. Bressler.

The trick is to first identify what a person is allergic to and then one can figure out how to deal with it.

Kiss allergic reactions goodbye
A kiss is still a kiss . . . unless you have severe allergies to certain foods. Then your sweetheart’s affections could trigger an allergic reaction.

Allergens such as nuts, peanuts, fish, seafood, soy foods, wheat, dairy or eggs can linger in your partner’s saliva for hours after these have been eaten and can transmit to you with a kiss, cautions Dr. Bressler.

Ask your loved one to brush his or her teeth, rinse the mouth and eliminate the offending food for 16 to 24 hours before the big embrace, recommends Dr. Bressler.

Top allergy triggers

  • Tree, grass and weed pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Dust mites
  • Cockroaches
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Rodents

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Chris Bressler at Banner Health Center in Surprise, Ariz. please call (623) 478-3100 or find a Banner physician near you.

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