If one of the first signs of spring at your house is hacking, coughing and nose blowing, it may be more than just a final hurrah for the winter cold season—some of your family members may have allergies.
The jury is still out on whether or not 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 definitive consensus about what to do if you suspect an allergy.
An allergy is an abnormal reaction that causes your body to produce antibodies. Those antibodies can trigger reactions in your eyes, nose, lungs, skin and gastrointestinal tract.
When trying to assess whether or not you or a family member has an allergy, patterns are very important. 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.
There can be an overlap in symptoms between an allergy and a cold. People may think they are allergic to dairy, but they are just lactose intolerant, for example.
The case for testing
If you suspect an allergy, ask your primary care physician to suggest an allergist.
You’ll have two options for getting tested:
- Skin prick or patch tests. They’re 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 did not used to be 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.
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.
Top allergy triggers
- Tree, grass and weed pollen
- Mold spores
- Dust mites