What to know about allergies and the tests available
7 October, 2022 by Dr. All
Approximately one-third of the world’s population suffers from one or more allergies. However, many people do not know what they are allergic to. Given that allergies are not just annoying but potentially life-threatening, everyone needs to test their allergies.
If you have had an allergic reaction before but do not know what you are allergic to, allergy testing can help to identify the allergens responsible for triggering your allergies.
Allergy triggers and their symptoms
The most common types of allergies are respiratory, food, drug and skin. Many things can trigger an allergic reaction. It happens when your body’s defences attack something usually harmless such as pollen, animal dander or food.
The common allergy triggers are:
- Animal dander
- Dust mites
- Insect stings
Here are the typical symptoms of allergies:
- Runny nose, coughing and sneezing
- Breathing problems
- Watery eyes
- Swollen mucous membranes
- Gastrointestinal (stomach and bowel) problems
While many allergy reactions are mild, others can be severe and life-threatening. They may be confined to a small part of the body or affect the entire body. Allergic reactions occur more often in people who have a family history of allergies.
The most severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis, most frequently triggered by food, medications and insect stings. It may occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to allergens such as peanuts or bee stings.
Anaphylaxis causes the immune system to release chemicals that can cause one to go into shock. The blood pressure will dip and the airways will narrow, giving rise to breathing difficulties.
Symptoms usually occur immediately after contact with the allergen and include:
- Abdominal pain
- Slurred speech
- Facial swelling
- Trouble breathing
- Weak pulse
- Difficulty swallowing
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in the mouth and throat
Seek emergency medical help if you, your child or someone else you’re with has a severe allergic reaction. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms go away.
Allergy testing identifies allergens like mould, pet dander, insect bites and peanuts. By detecting the specific allergens, doctors can develop a specific prevention plan such as minimising exposure to allergens, getting allergy shots or taking daily allergy medications.
The two main types of allergy testing available in Singapore are blood tests and skin prick tests. Your doctor will suggest the test that is most suited for you.
Blood test checks for substances called immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in the blood. IgE is an antibody made by the body. If you have allergies, you may have more IgE in your blood than normal and an allergy blood test will pick it up.
A skin prick test is administered on a small area of the skin, usually on the forearm, to test for allergies to various food allergens. The standard process involves pricking the skin, inserting a small amount of a substance and observing the reaction. Skin prick testing can be performed on people of all ages, even infants who are older than six months. It is widely used and safe in most cases.
What to do when an allergic reaction occurs
Allergy attack reactions can be frightening, sudden and extremely uncomfortable. If your symptoms are mild, like a simple rash and itching, starting treatment at home with antihistamines such as Benadryl is fine.
If you are experiencing more than a simple rash and itching, seek care as soon as possible.
If you are having a severe reaction with difficulty breathing or talking, or experience swelling in the mouth, you should call our general practitioner doctor or the ambulance and seek emergency medical help.