Allergies are one of the most common health issues, affecting more than 50 million Americans each year. Allergic reactions can be triggered by dust and pollen in the air, the foods we eat, or exposure to certain chemical substances.
What Causes Allergies?
When you breathe in, swallow or touch something you’re allergic to, your immune system reacts to this normally harmless substance as if it was an invader. This process is called an allergic reaction, and the substances that can activate allergies are called allergens. Your body’s defensive response to dust, pollen, pet dandruff or certain chemicals produces allergy symptoms.
Types of Allergies
About 7.8 percent of American adults have hay fever according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. If you have these kinds of allergies, you know they flare up when you are exposed to mold spores or pollen from grass, trees or ragweed.
Seasonal allergies tend to worsen from spring until fall and may subside in the winter. Seasonal allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe and may vary depending on the specific allergen.
As many as 32 million Americans have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. The most common food allergy among children is peanut, followed by milk and shellfish. Other common food allergens include eggs, fish, soybeans, tree nuts and wheat.
How Are Allergies Diagnosed?
- Skin tests include a skin prick test, also called puncture or scratch test, that checks for an immediate allergic reaction.
- Skin patch testing checks for a slower reaction.
- Blood tests check for immunoglobulin E, an immune system antibody associated with allergic reactions.
- Provocation tests expose the nose, mouth or lungs to a tiny amount of a suspected allergen under carefully controlled conditions. This procedure is only performed when other tests aren’t conclusive.