Allergy is an immune reaction to contact with some substance touched, inhaled or eaten. The patient's immune system reacts to this substance by forming a "defense" mechanism. This defense can affect the patient’s quality of life. Substances that trigger an allergic response are known as "allergens". These allergens enter the body by being absorbed through the skin, inhaled, injected or swallowed.
The most common allergens affecting patients in the mountains are pollens, molds, dust mites, and animal dander. The first step in managing these allergens is avoidance. If that's not possible, controlling your environment to reduce allergens may help. When these steps fail, medications, such as antihistamine pills or nasal steroid sprays, can be used. In patients with especially troubling symptoms, injections of the allergens, known as immunotherapy or "allergy shots", can result in significant improvement in symptoms.
The first step in diagnosing an allergic patient is often allergy testing. Although blood tests can be used, especially in small children, our approach uses skin testing. Small scratches in the skin are exposed to various allergens, and an immediate and accurate diagnosis is obtained during your allergy testing visit.
Although allergy testing is often used to guide immunotherapy, it can also be used to fine tune medication regimens and guide environmental control measures. You should consider being evaluated for allergies if you have symptoms similar to a cold or flu that last more than a week or two, or if you have a stuffy nose that won't clear up. You may also consider testing if you've tried allergy medicines and they help but you still have troublesome symptoms.