Allergy: diagnosis and support

If people think they have an allergy, it is wise to see a doctor. The doctor asks several questions about the symptoms, when they occur, how long they last, and what appears to be causing them, to determine what the allergen might be. It is helpful if the person has written down when allergic reactions occur. Some people keep a food diary, where they record everything they eat, or a place diary of rooms and other places visited. Further medical examination, in a hospital or allergy clinic , can probably pinpoint the allergen more precisely.

Skin prick tests for allergies

In skin prick testing , several drops of liquid, each containing an allergen, are applied in rows to the skin, usually on the forearm. The skin under each drop is pricked with a blade so that the allergen can enter the body.
An allergic reaction is visible as a small, swollen, pale, raised, itchy
area at the injection site. The reaction occurs within 15-20 minutes and then gradually disappears. The larger the affected area, the more severe the reaction.

Patch and blood tests for allergy

In the patch test , small discs containing possible allergens are stuck to the skin, usually for 48 hours. The skin is examined for reactions such as eczema or dermatitis. Sometimes blood samples are also taken and analyzed in the laboratory.
If someone has previously reacted to the allergens, the blood will contain antibodies against these allergens.

Challenge test for allergy

In a challenge test, the person is directly exposed to a suspected allergen under strict medical conditions. In the case of a food allergy, the person is not told that the suspected food is in a meal or capsule. This way, non-allergic reactions such as food aversion can be ruled out.

Tackling an allergy

With many health problems, such as a cold or a sprained ankle, people suffer for a while and then get better. However, an allergy can have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for daily life. Medical treatments can help enormously by reducing symptoms and giving the patient more freedom. But allergy sufferers can also help themselves. By accepting their condition they can control their allergy.

Who can help with allergies?

There are many health professionals who can provide advice on managing an allergy. This includes general practitioners, nurses and doctors in hospitals, and allergy specialists , who usually work in allergy clinics. Dietitians can provide valuable advice about food allergies, and dermatologists are specially trained to treat skin allergies.
There is also a huge variety of alternative therapists. In addition, there are many self-help groups run by people with allergies .
They share their experiences and knowledge and provide useful advice and practical tips to other allergy sufferers.

Support from family and friends in case of allergies

When someone has an allergy, family and friends can play an important role. Their understanding and patience can help the person learn to live with the allergy without feeling like a burden to others. Allergy sufferers sometimes feel like they are being criticized or excluded because of their condition. For example, on a sunny summer day they don’t want to go outside because they know that within a few minutes they will sneeze and have itchy eyes due to hay fever. Others may think they are acting out or not interested in exercise or sports. Sometimes people with allergies become angry or depressed.
Younger children with allergies may not understand their condition. They are often angry or feel left out because they can’t eat certain foods, or keep pets, or play outside like their friends do.
Family and friends can support and encourage them at such times. At the same time, they can look for signs that the person is becoming obsessed with the allergy and allowing it to influence daily life too much.

Maureen’s ‘allergy’

Maureen lives in Brisbane, Australia. When she was 14, she suffered from stomach pain after some meals. Maureen’s older brother, Jim, had severe asthma and her parents knew allergies could run in families. They thought Maureen might have a food allergy. For several weeks, Maureen kept a food diary of what she ate. The stomach pain varied, but there was no clear link to any particular food. Eventually Maureen went to her doctor. After a few tests it became clear that the problem was a stomach ulcer. Maureen found that stomach pain itself is rarely a symptom of food allergy.