Video features Paul Wheatley, Pathology Manager at Nuffield Health Taunton and Exeter Hospitals.
Around 44% of British adults have at least one allergy and it can seem like every child is allergic to one thing or another these days. The severity of symptoms ranges from mild itching to anaphylactic shock, a condition where swelling in your air passage cuts off the oxygen supply. These symptoms are caused by the sudden release of chemicals triggered by an interaction between antibodies (within the immune system) and antigens (toxins or other foreign substances) in your blood.
While many of us know vaguely what we may be allergic to, most don’t know exactly what sets them off or how severe their reaction might be. Here's how to take control of your allergies:
- Know the signs of allergies
- Identify your allergies with a blood test
- Use your results to improve your life
A sudden sign that you might have a severe allergy often comes after a meal, particularly when you are trying a food for the first time. The interaction mechanism is so sensitive that minute quantities of the allergen can cause itching and swelling, usually around the face, neck and mouth. This can distinguish an allergy from an intolerance, which usually presents with gastrointestinal symptoms.
Seasonal changes can also bring on allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Many people self-manage this with antihistamines, but on some occasions, will feel completely overwhelmed by their symptoms. This can occur when you're heavily exposed to allergens that your body reacts strongly against. The key to managing them is identifying your triggers.
We use an advanced system that uses antigen-coated caps. If you have an allergy to a specific antigen, antibodies will seek it out and bind to it. A ‘positive’ allergy test will show raised levels of antibodies in the blood sample.
This test is more comprehensive than a skin prick or scratch test. If you have a suspected allergy, the antigens in the cap will bind to the antibodies in your blood sample. This 'positive' result can be paired with your clinical history to better understand exactly what is causing your allergy and how severe your reaction may be.
If your results come back negative, you'll prevent unnecessary avoidance of certain foods and activities. But if they come back positive, we’ll provide the information to your referring GP. In many cases, you’ll be encouraged to see a Specialist to help interpret the results. They’ll use the information to help you manage your lifestyle and limit the negative impacts of your allergies.
Total avoidance may be necessary for some foods such as peanuts, fish and shellfish among others. Allergies to latex gloves can be managed by swapping with those made of vinyl or polythene.
A patient who lives with a dog, carpets and near trees could finally understand which of the three causes their most severe reactions. Knowing you’re allergic to dust mites and not your dog may mean you change your carpets for hardwood floors and let the dog inside.
Knowing the pollens that set off your allergies could mean you’re confident to go back to the park or open windows, but simply avoid certain trees and plants in spring and early summer.
If managing an allergen is too difficult you may be prescribed stronger antihistamines or be referred for specialist immunotherapy treatment to try and build tolerance, for example for allergic rhinitis.
How much does an allergy blood test cost? See our full list of tests here.
Last updated Tuesday 9 April 2019
First published on Tuesday 4 July 2017