Allergies are very common and it’s predicted they affect one in four people in the UK at some point in their lives. They are more common in children and whilst some allergies disappear as the child grows, many allergies persist life-long. Adults can also develop new allergies to products that wouldn’t have affected them previously.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is a response of your immune system becoming hypersensitive to certain substances in the environment.
Any substances that can cause an allergic reaction is an ‘allergen’. Common allergens include:
- Dust Mites
- Food – nuts, shellfish, eggs and cow’s milk
- Animals – Particularly the fur
- Insect bites and stings
- Household Chemicals
If you do not have an allergy to any of the items listed above, these substances would be harmless to you.
Allergies develop when the body’s immune system reacts to a substance as though it’s harmful. It’s not clear why this happens and there isn’t one definite cause, however, allergies are often placed into categories for risk factors, these are ‘host’ and ‘environmental’
In recent years, there has been an increase in the incidence of allergic disorders that are not related to host factors alone. Environmental factors include any allergies that are the result of your surroundings. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Environmental Pollution
- Certain chemicals/ substances
The host factors include anything that might increase the risk of developing an allergy, these include:
- Heredity/ Genetics
Do I have an allergy or intolerance?
An allergy is a reaction produced by the body’s immune system in response to a substance. However, sensitivity or intolerance are different to an allergy.
A sensitivity is the exaggeration of the normal effects of a substance, for example, people with a sensitivity to caffeine may result in exaggerated symptoms such as palpitations and trembling.
An intolerance is due to a certain substance causing unpleasant symptoms, but this doesn’t involve the immune system. People can have an intolerance to certain foods, but still eat a very small amount without issues, this wouldn’t be the case if it was an allergy.
Signs and symptoms
People can suffer a variety of different symptoms and they usually happen quickly, within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen.
Most allergic reactions are mild and can include:
- Itchy nose
- Runny or blocked nose (allergic rhinitis)
- Worsening of asthma
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Dry, red or cracked skin
- Raised, itchy, red rash (hives)
- Tummy pain
- Swelling in one particular area
- Swollen eyes, lips, tongue or face
Although rare, some people can have a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock. This is a medical emergency and will require urgent treatment.
Severe allergic reaction symptoms:
- Swelling of the mouth and throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Blue skin or lips
- Collapsing and losing consciousness
What is Allergy testing?
Here at Everything skin clinic™ we offer a range of allergy tests to our patients with skin allergies. These include Patch tests and Prick tests-for patients suspected to have contact dermatitis. Blood tests-RAST tests for suspected food allergies.
What is patch testing?
Patch testing is a special procedure to find out whether your skin condition a result of, or aggravated by an allergy to substances which have come into contact with your skin. This is a contact allergy.
Substances that cause an allergic reaction can be at home, at work or in leisure activities. It does not test for food allergies. Food allergies are tested through a blood test or prick test.
Why is patch testing needed?
It is important to determine whether there is an allergic component contributing an eczematous reaction. Avoidance of relevant allergen(s) can be key in the management of the rash. It is possible that your patch tests will be negative, but this is helpful to your doctor as we can rule out contact allergy as a cause of your skin problem.
What does it involve?
It involves 4 visits to the service. The first appointment is for an assessment and the three other visits all occur in the same week, usually but not always on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The patch assessment appointment
The initial visit is for an assessment where we will ask specific questions to individualise the test. Please bring your medication list to this appointment. At that visit, you will have the opportunity to book the dates of the test, which we will carry out on three days of the same week.
On your first visit, we will apply each substance that needs testing to your back in special small discs (about 1cm in diameter) containers held in place by hypoallergenic tape.
The substances will remain taped in place until your second visit, where we will then remove the taping and take note of any reactions.
On the third visit, we will examine your back and we will discuss any reactions with you.
Positive reactions to a substance will include red and itchy skin around the substance area. These become more obvious by the third visit (final reading), although a reaction can occasionally take up to two weeks. Some substances may stain the skin; this is normal and will wash off after a couple of days with showering or bathing.