Frequently Asked Questions
What are allergies?
Allergies are caused by an abnormal response of the immune system to triggers in the environment. Symptoms can involve the nose and sinuses, the lungs, the skin, and the stomach and GI tract. They can be caused by something you breathe (an inhalant) such as pet dander, pollen, or mold; by something you swallow such as food or medicine; something you touch such as poison ivy, cosmetics, or chemicals; or stinging insects.
How are allergies treated?
The first step is diagnosis. Allergy testing allows us to identify what your specific triggers are. Knowing your allergies helps us to make the appropriate treatment decisions, which may include avoidance, medications, or allergy shots.
What kind of allergy tests do you do?
We perform three basic types of allergy tests: skin prick tests, blood tests, and skin patch tests. We can use these to test you to inhalant, food, insect, and contact allergies. We also use spirometry (a lung function test) to help us manage patients with asthma.
What is a skin prick test?
Skin prick testing can be used to diagnose inhalant and food allergies. For inhalant allergy testing, we use a standard panel of 34 extracts that contains the most common indoor and outdoor allergens, including: dust mite, dog, cat, mold, and grass, tree, and weed pollens. We can also test to other inhalants such as horse or rabbit, and to multiple foods if needed.
The testing procedure may be performed in one or two steps. Step one is called a scratch test. We perform this on your back and may test 30 or more allergens. This does not cause bleeding and is typically not painful. The results are ready in 20 minutes. If step one is negative, we proceed to step two. This step is called an intradermal test. This also will take 20 minutes. Insect testing is done by a special skin test protocol and may take up to 2 hours.
What is the difference between skin and blood testing?
Skin testing is preferred for two reasons. First, it is more accurate than blood testing. Second, it also gives us the advantage of knowing the results the same day. We can discuss management of your allergies at the same office visit, instead of asking you to come back later when we have the results. Sometimes, if we can not perform skin tests for medical or practical reasons, we can then order blood tests as an alternative.
Why do I need to stop some of my medicines?
Skin prick tests may be affected by certain medications such as antihistamines, steroids, tricyclic antidepressants, and cough/cold medicines. These should be stopped if possible. Medications such as inhalers, Singulair, blood pressure medicines, and nose sprays DO NOT need to be discontinued.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs that can cause periodic symptoms such as wheeze, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and cough. Some common triggers for asthma attacks are exercise, allergies, and respiratory infections like the common cold.
What is spirometry?
Spirometry is a test that measures how well your lungs are working. It can help to diagnose and manage asthma and other chronic lung diseases. It is a simple test that takes about 5 minutes. Typically, patients 7 years old and up can perform this test. You should be on all of your regular medications when you do this test.
What are allergy shots (immunotherapy)?
Allergy shots are a treatment for inhalant or insect allergies. Unlike medications, which only treat the symptoms, allergy shots treat the cause of the problem (your immune system).
How often do I have to get a shot?
The first 4-6 months you will come in 1-2 times a week. This is called the "build-up" phase. During this time, your dose will be increased from an initial, very weak dose to the maximum "maintenance" dose. We follow this schedule to reduce the risk of side effects. Once you are at maintenance, you will come every 3-4 weeks.
Immunotherapy for insect allergy follows a slightly different schedule.
How long will the shots take to work?
Some patients may experience some symptom relief within the first 6 months. The majority of patients (80-90%) will notice a reduction in their symptoms 12-18 months after starting.
How long do I have to take allergy shots?
Most patients are on shots for about 5 years. This is because medical studies have shown that stopping shots too soon often leads to a recurrence of symptoms. Most patients who stay on shots at least 5 years will benefit for an extended period of time after stopping.
What kind of side effects can allergy shots cause?
Allergy shots are generally well tolerated. The most common side effect is swelling, itching, and redness at the site of the injection. Symptoms at any site other than where the shot was given may be a sign of a serious reaction called anaphylaxis. This is a potentially life-threatening reaction and needs to be treated immediately. We take every precaution to reduce the risk of anaphylaxis. Because of this, every time you come for a shot, you must stay for 30 minutes. There are no exceptions to this rule.
When can I get shots?
Please see Locations and Hours for allergy shot times.