What is an allergy?

An allergy is a common condition that often starts in childhood. Children are at higher risk of having an allergy if one or both of their parents also have allergies. Some children outgrow their allergy, but others do not. In many children, the allergy progresses to asthma. In the United States:

  • 50 million people have an allergy

  • 22 million people have asthma

  • One-fourth of the people with asthma are children

  • 70% - 80% of school-aged children who have asthma also have allergies

  • Asthma causes about 4,000 deaths a year

What causes allergies?

An allergy is an abnormal immune system response. The immune system’s job is to protect the body against disease. Sometimes, it tries to protect the body against things that aren’t really harmful. These are called allergens and include pollen from trees and grasses, certain foods, house dust, molds, and pet dander.

What should I suspect an allergy?

It’s not always easy to know if you have an allergy. Some allergy symptoms are the same as those for other conditions. You might suspect an allergy if you have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Frequent sneezing

  • Runny or stuffy nose with clear mucus

  • Itchy, watery eyes

  • Skin rash

  • Hives (raised, itchy area on the skin)

  • Stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting

If I'm allergic to something, will I always have symptoms?

You might not always have symptoms. This is because of the allergy threshold. When the total amount of contact you have with one or more of your allergic triggers is below your individual threshold, you won’t have any allergy symptoms. Once your total level of contact goes above your allergy threshold, you will have symptoms.

Why is it important to identify allergies early?

If childhood allergies are not diagnosed and treated, they could lead to more problems when the child gets older. Children who get an allergy early in life might go through several stages known as the allergy march. The allergy march usually starts with a skin allergy (eczema). That might naturally progress to a food allergy, which might cause frequent ear infections and lead to hay fever. Finally, hay fever might progress to asthma. Not all children who have an allergy will develop asthma. But early diagnosis means the child can be treated earlier and will feel better more often.

The Allergy March Chart

What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs. It causes wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. If you have asthma, you have it all the time, but you will only have asthma attacks when something bothers your lungs.

There are two types of asthma: allergic and non allergic. In people with allergic asthma, symptoms are triggered by an allergic reaction. Exercise, cold air, and other factors may trigger symptoms in people with non allergic asthma. 

Possible Triggers for Asthma Attacks

How can I relieve asthma symptoms?

Asthma symptoms can be relieved by a variety of medications. Just as important is learning what triggers your asthma symptoms and then taking steps to avoid them. Allergy testing is important so you can learn what triggers your symptoms.

Why is testing important?

Testing helps you and your doctor find out if you have an allergy and what you’re allergic to. Once you know that, your doctor can come up with a treatment plan. The treatment could be as simple as stating away from the things you’re allergic to. It might also include medication or allergy shots (immunotherapy).

How can I be tested for allergies?

There are two different ways to be tested: a skin prick test or a blood test, such as ImmunoCAP®. Both tests are very accurate.

During a skin prick test, a drop of the allergen is placed on your forearm or back, and your skin is pricked so the allergen can enter your skin. This is done for each of your suspected allergens. If you are allergic to any of the substances, you’ll have a reaction such as itchy, red bumps.

During the ImmunoCAP test, a single sample of your blood is drawn from your arm. Using this sample, the laboratory can test your body’s reaction to over 200 different allergens. Your doctor will decide which allergens to test. This test is an especially good choice for people who:

  • Have had a severe allergic reaction

  • Have a widespread skin disease

  • Are taking certain medications that would need to be stopped before a skin prick test could be done

  • Would do much better with one skin prick than multiple skin pricks


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