Identifying an offending allergen may be uncomfortable, time-consuming, and expensive, but it is sometimes necessary in order to avoid future allergic reactions. A medical history, a record of any recent changes in daily habits, skin-scratch tests (in which small amounts of suspected allergens are applied to tiny scratches in the skin), and intracutaneous skin tests (in which allergens are injected under the skin) are used to help identify the troublesome foreign substance. A special study called radioallergosorbent testing (RAST) is sometimes performed to detect and measure antibodies in the blood that have been manufactured in response to invading substances.
Once the allergen has been identified, half the battle is won. Avoiding the troublesome substance is the first step toward relieving an allergy problem. If the allergen cannot be avoided or removed, medication or immunotherapy may be recommended. Three types of medications are commonly prescribed: antihistamine drugs, which combat the effect of the histamines in the body; corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation and swelling; and bronchodilators, which ease breathing by opening bronchial tubes.
Allergy immunotherapy, or desensitization, consists of injections of an allergen in gradually increasing quantities. This allows the body to build up a tolerance to the offending substance. Immunotherapy works best in controlling allergies to pollen, insect venom, and house dust.
A little common sense goes a long way toward controlling allergies. Obviously, the offending allergen needs to be avoided. Keep windows shut during pollen season. Bathe your pet frequently if you are allergic to animal dander. Replace natural fibers in the home with synthetics. Air conditioners or air filters can be installed for hay fever sufferers. Those susceptible to insect bites can wear protective clothes and avoid wearing bright clothing and perfumes, both of which attract insects. Babies born into allergy-prone families should be breast-fed as long as possible to delay exposure to cow's milk, eggs, and citrus fruits.
In most cases, allergies cannot be prevented, but much can be done to help control or diminish their effects on overly sensitive individuals.
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