Allergic reactions are a common occurrence in humans, prevalent in all ages, sexes, and demographics. While allergies can develop in anyone at any time, children seem to be the most susceptible, especially if their parent(s) have allergies.
Although there are many reasons why allergies develop, much is still not known about their etiology. The most common allergies and allergenic causes include environmental factors, food sensitivities, and genetic predispositions.
Identifying and making the diagnosis of various allergies can sometimes be a difficult task due to all of the various types and the different severities of the illness.
When individuals present with specific symptoms that are related to allergies, they often have no idea as to the cause. It is then the job of the health care provider to ask the correct questions and obtain a comprehensive history to start the process of making the diagnosis.
The type of thorough training that an allergy specialist has will make them the best diagnosticians, yet other healthcare workers can become adept at this process with experience.
In what follows, we’ll be sharing the many types of allergies and exploring how allergies and their corresponding symptoms are both identified and diagnosed. We’ll also detail the outlook for those living with allergies.
Types of Allergies
There are several types of allergies, each comprising mostly similar symptoms, although some differences can be seen. Whether seasonal allergies, hay fever, food allergies, or insect bites, allergic symptoms are often mild in nature and include itchiness, skin rashes, and mild congestion.
Moderate allergic symptoms may include swelling, vomiting, and diarrhea. In rare cases, however, some allergies can be severe and even life-threatening, resulting in anaphylaxis, shock, and even cardiac arrest.
No matter the type or severity of the allergy, patients experiencing an allergic reaction typically experience symptoms within the first few minutes of exposure.
It is important to note that not all individuals who claim to have allergies actually have the immunological response that corresponds with the accurate diagnosis of an allergic reaction. These individuals will need additional evaluation and management beyond allergy diagnosis.
Identifying and Diagnosing Allergies
When diagnosing the possibility of an allergy, healthcare practitioners typically evaluate three primary factors. Those three factors include the immune system response, the symptoms that appear as a result of allergen contact, and the allergens that may cause such reactions.
If an individual shows noticeable symptoms upon consuming a particular food, for example, it’s a likely presumption that a food allergy is present. Should the individual lack additional or more specific symptoms upon eating a particular food, however, a mere sensitivity to the food might be the case.
During an allergy evaluation, several tests are done that will seek to examine the body’s white blood cells and their corresponding immune response. Additional testing for antibodies to see whether the patient has enough strength to defend against foreign invaders will likely follow.
Upon the completion of tests, the practitioner will reach a conclusion as to whether or not a suspected allergy is present. Should the conclusion reached determine that an allergy is present, they’ll proceed with some additional testing. If the allergen suspected is an allergen that causes skin reactions, then allergy skin tests are utilized for confirmation of the allergy.
Other diagnostic tests include oral tests for substances and foods. These tests are very helpful in assessing a wide variety of different allergens and will help make the diagnosis more accurate.
Summary of Allergy Tests
To summarize the journey to diagnosing an allergy or allergies, the following is an organized detail of the many types of allergy tests utilized.
White Blood Cell Test: Determines the immune system response or lack thereof of the patient to conclude whether or not they have the strength to defend against invaders.
Antibody Test: Measures the defenders in the immune system involved with guarding against infection and foreign invaders. It also confirms previous exposure to allergic substances and determines the overall strength of the immune system.
Skin Test: Exposes the skin of the patient to the presumed allergenic substance to measure the reaction or lack thereof. Distinguishes between allergic reaction or mere sensitivity, as well as the severity of the reaction.
Oral Test: Requires the patient to ingest the food that’s presumed to be the cause of the reaction to determine the response.
No matter the diagnosis of the particular allergy, the outlook for individuals with allergies is typically positive. With several treatment and management options and several more preventative techniques, it’s very rare for an allergy to develop into one that is severe or life-threatening.
Although the methods for diagnosing allergies are helpful in determining the causes of allergies, they are not foolproof, and they don’t always pinpoint the exact allergen. Yet, these methods are excellent tools and help to achieve the best clinical judgment by a health practitioner.
Allergy specialists are certainly the most qualified individuals to evaluate and treat allergies and should be considered the standard, especially in cases of difficult allergies.