The 411 on allergy testing

The 411 on allergy testing

Southwest Louisiana is in bloom, spreading allergens into the air and tormenting those with allergies. So how do you know when it is time to undergo allergy testing?  Plus, what medicines are the best to kick the congestion, sneezing and watery eyes?  We get those questions answered in this Healthcast.

All her life, Jill O'Quinn has lived with allergies.  "It's just very aggravating and I've pretty much, sad to say, just learned to live with it," she said.

But this year, O'Quinn decided enough was enough and brought her tissues and teary eyes to Dr. Brad LeBert and physicians assistant Jeffrey Daigle with Southwest Louisiana Ear, Nose and Throat.  "We see a lot of patients this time of year that are experiencing a lot of nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, frequent sneezing, coughing," said Dr. LeBert.

The culprit: pollen, trees and grasses - picking up with the warmer weather.  "We don't have the definitive passes of each season, so sometimes one allergy season can blend into the next," said Dr. LeBert.

Your allergies are specific to the area where you live. In Southwest Louisiana, the pollen count is extremely high - specifically with oak and ash - and no rain to settle it.  "Moisture helps pull it to the ground," said Dr. LeBert, "it also rinses the pollen surface so it's not on every surface as you walk around it doesn't kick it up and the wind isn't as likely to blow it around."

For allergy sufferers, like O'Quinn, identifying the allergens is the first step to treatment.  "All it consists of is a small little prick," said Daigle, "the second portion of the tests uses a needle that goes right under the skin, it's not like an injection with the flu shot or giving blood."

42 allergens are tested against the skin, including grasses, trees, molds, weeds, cats, dogs, even horses and cattle. Then, the ones that flag are tested for cross-reaction with foods.  "There are some foods that once eaten, if you are allergic to a particular pollen, your body will recognize those foods the same way it does the pollen," said Daigle.

O'Quinn's test results showed allergies to dustmites, several grasses and trees - leading to her own allergy-fighting formula.  "We give you small increments of what you're allergic to to help the body switch its immune response," said Daigle.

The improvement for O'Quinn is already encouraging her in her allergy fight.  "I can breathe better," she said, "my eyes are not quite as teary as they were before, I can actually wear make-up again!"

Allergy shots are taken once a week for three to six months to build up the allergic response. Antihistimines are also given daily, as well as a nasal spray.

The top over-the-counter allergy blockers are Zyrtec, Allegra and Claritin. A simple nasal saline wash can rinse the pollen from your nasal cavity, but if all of that shows little improvement, see a doctor.

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