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Allergies : What You Need to Know Before You See an Allergist

If you suffer from allergies, it may be time to get professional help. Allergists are specialized doctors trained to treat all kinds of allergies, including ones caused by food, the environment, and insect bites. If you experience prolonged allergy symptoms or severe allergic reactions, an allergist can help you create a unique treatment plan to get you back on your feet.

What Is an Allergist?
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An allergist is a specialized doctor trained to treat allergies. These doctors have gone to years of medical school, and most are certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. Becoming a certified allergist requires a doctor to take a rigorous certification test. A doctor must complete continuing education credits to stay certified.
You may visit your primary care doctor first as you begin to seek answers and treatment for your allergies. If you need a specialized treatment, you will need to make an appointment with an allergist or immunologist. Your doctor should be able to provide you with a recommendation.

Allergists can treat all kinds of allergies and allergic reactions, including these common ones:

allergic rhinitis
seasonal allergies, or hay fever
asthma
food allergies
atopic dermatitis, or eczema
anaphylaxis
immune system problems
Do I Need to See an Allergist?
More than 60 million people suffer from allergies, and there are a reported 17 million outpatient office visits for allergies each year. You can develop allergies at any time in your life, regardless of your sex, race, or socioeconomic status.

There are several reasons you may want to visit an allergist:

You experience chronic sinus infections, nasal congestion, or difficulty breathing.
You have different seasonal allergies throughout the year.
You have seasonal allergies for an extended time.
You cannot control your allergies with over-the-counter medications.
You wheeze or cough.
You are frequently short of breath.
You feel tightness in your chest.
You cannot complete daily activities because of your symptoms.
Your quality of life suffers because of your symptoms
It is important to see a doctor about your allergies. Allergies can cause other medical problems, such as:

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anaphylaxis
asthma
ear infections
fungal complications in the lungs
other infections
What Happens at an Allergy Appointment?
Before your appointment, you may want to create a diary to track your allergy symptoms. You should also write down the medications you take and your family history of allergies and asthma.

Once you are at the appointment, you should expect the doctor to ask you about your symptoms, including how long you’ve had them and if you suspect they are caused by anything specific. The allergist will ask questions about your environment and medical history to understand what might be triggering your allergic reactions and how to treat them. You should also bring a list of questions to ask about your condition.

If your doctor determines you need further testing for your allergies, you may receive a skin, blood, breathing, or food challenge test.

A skin test involves pricking your skin with the extract of an allergen and seeing how your body reacts to it. Blood tests, such as the radioallergosorbent test (RAST), will measure antibodies in the blood that signal allergies. A breathing test, such as spirometry or a pulmonary function test (PFT), measures the amount of air you can hold and how fast you can inhale or exhale. Food challenge tests involve tracking your body’s reaction to consuming a known food allergen.

What Are Allergy Treatments?
There are many ways to treat allergies. According to a study in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, the tests and treatments doctors use depend on their specialty.

One of the most common allergy treatments is avoidance. This is particularly common with food allergies.

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Seasonal allergies may be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Common medications include:

antihistamines
antileukotrienes
nasal steroids
nasal cromolyn
A doctor may also prescribe an epinephrine injection if your allergies cause or may cause anaphylaxis.

If you suffer from persistent or severe allergies, you may be a candidate for immunology, or allergy shots, for long-term treatment. You will receive these shots for a period time to build up immunity or tolerance to an allergen. These work just like a vaccine, states the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology.

Over time, your doctor will evaluate your treatments and make sure that you are experiencing relief from your symptoms. Your allergist will create a custom treatment plan, so your plan may be different than what your friends or family members have.

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