For millions of Americans the arrival of spring is met with mixed emotions. The greening of the trees and the blooming of the flowers are beautiful, but these signs of nature are hard to enjoy through clouds of pollen, itchy, watery eyes and fits of sneezing. If you are one of the 35 million Americans who suffer from "seasonal" allergies, it is time to take action.
Ministry Medical Group recently added allergy testing to its offering of services available at its Merrill Clinic, located on the 4th Floor of Ministry Good Samaritan Health Center.
The testing in Merrill is being offered by Ministry Medical Group Family Medicine specialist Kenechi (Ken) Anuligo, M.D.
"Although most people suffering from allergies are able to handle their conditions with advice from their physician, they must take extra precautions during the height of allergy season to avoid severe reactions," says Dr. Anuligo. "Some reactions are an emergency which require immediate medical care if your reaction includes shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, severe sweating, faintness, nausea, a rapid pulse or pale, cold, moist skin."
There are many methods of allergy testing. Among the more common are Skin tests, Elimination-type tests, and Blood tests.
Skin tests are the most common and involve placing a small amount of suspected allergy-causing substances on the skin, usually the forearm, upper arm, or the back. Then, the skin is pricked so the allergen goes under the skin's surface. It is then observed for signs of a reaction, usually swelling and redness of the site. Results are usually seen within 15-20 minutes. Several allergens can be tested at the same time. A similar method involves injecting a small amount of allergen into the skin and watching for a reaction at the site. This is called an intradermal skin test and is more likely to be used when testing is being done for something specific, such as bee venom or penicillin. Patch testing is a method to diagnose allergic reactions on the skin. Possible allergens are taped to the skin for 48 hours and are checked after 24 hours and then 48 hours later.
Skin tests are most useful for diagnosing food allergies, mold, pollen, animal, and other allergies that cause allergic rhinitis and asthma.
An elimination diet can also be used to check for food allergies. An elimination diet is one in which foods that may be causing symptoms are removed from the diet for several weeks and then slowly re-introduced one at a time while the person is watched for signs of an allergic reaction.
Blood tests can be done to measure the amount of immunoglobulin antibodies to a specific allergen in the blood. This test may be used when skin testing is not helpful or cannot be done
Dr. Anuligo believes increasing your knowledge about allergies can help prevent you or a loved one from requiring emergency care for allergy-related attacks. To help allergy sufferers through this difficult time of year, Dr. Anuligo offers the following tips:
- Know your allergies. If you and your physician suspect you suffer from allergies, you may be tested to try to determine what is triggering your allergic symptoms.
- If you are allergic to pollen and mold, avoid the outdoors on windy days or when you begin to notice symptoms. The wind often stirs up pollen and mold and carries it through the air. It is also a good idea to avoid mowing your lawn, or being near someone who is cutting the grass, if you are allergic to grass or molds. If you must mow, wear a high quality mask and change your clothing when finished.
- If you are allergic to pollen, minimize activity outdoors at dawn (5 a.m. to 10 a.m.) and at dusk (7 p.m. to 10 p.m.), when pollen is usually emitted into the air.
- Keep car windows closed when you drive. It is also a good idea to use an air conditioner at home and in the car.
- Avoid hanging laundry outside to dry. Pollen and molds can collect on sheets and clothes.
Visit your physician regularly if you have allergies. The continuing advice of a doctor is crucial to the long-term treatment of allergic conditions. Your physician may recommend drug therapies, allergy shots, or to see a medical specialist with special training in diagnosing and treating allergic diseases.
Of course, springtime can also mean more time outdoors with insects. Most reactions to insect bites, from bees or ants for instance, are mild and result in short term itching or stinging. Mild reactions can be treated by first removing the stinger if it remains in the skin, and then treating the bite with an ice pack to reduce the pain and swelling.
"If there is any difficulty breathing, tightness in the throat and chest, hives or severe itching resulting from an insect bite, or the person is feeling dizzy, or confused, call 911 or go immediately to an emergency department," says Dr. Anuligo. "Severe reactions to insect bites, although not that common, can progress rapidly and should be treated by a physician as soon as possible."
For more information on Allergy Testing or Ministry Medical Group’s Primary Care services in Merrill, please call 715.539.2350 or visit ministryhealth.org.
Ministry Medical Group, the physician-directed division of Ministry Health Care, consists of clinics located throughout northern and central Wisconsin. Multiple locations offer convenient access to quality primary and specialty care services, along with consistently well-managed, cost-effective care.