How do I manage my allergies?
1. Identify the cause of your symptoms
It might be quite easy for a person to identify the responsible allergen, based on the timing of their symptoms, e.g. if you develop symptoms after petting a cat.
However, when symptoms are subtle or occur on a continuous basis, a doctor may recommend either a skin prick test or blood test to determine the specific allergy. Testing involves scratching or pricking a drop of purified allergen into the skin, which is then observed for a reaction.
2. Avoid exposure to the allergen
Once an allergen has been identified, it may be possible to avoid exposure through lifestyle modifications.
If your hayfever symptoms are mild to moderate, an antihistamine medication such as Telfast® may be helpful. Antihistamines are an effective treatment for itchy eyes/nose, sneezing and runny nose. If you develop more severe hayfever please seek advice from your healthcare provider for further treatment options.
Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.
How do I minimise exposure to allergy triggers?
Although it may not be possible to avoid the allergens that cause symptoms altogether, there are several things a person can do to minimise the severity and frequency of their symptoms.
A number of helpful tips are listed below for people to reduce their exposure to common allergy triggers, including pollen, dust mites, mould, and animals.
- Check the pollen forecast and try to stay indoors if pollen counts are high.
- Stay indoors whenever you can during spring, on windy days and after thunderstorms.
- Pollen levels in the air tend to be higher during early morning, so try and adjust your routine where you can.
- Wear sunglasses outdoors and splash your eyes with cold water often to flush out any pollen.
- Have a shower and wash your hair before bed so hayfever symptoms do not interfere with your sleep.
- High levels of allergens in the air can be minimised by regular dusting and vacuuming of furniture, floors and carpets.
- Dry your bed linen and clothes indoors when pollen count is high.
- Close the windows of your house and car and rely on air conditioning during pollen season.
- Choose plants in your garden that are pollinated by birds or insects rather than plants that release their pollen in the air. Australian natives are often suitable as the common spring allergy culprits are often exotic imports.
- Cover mattresses and pillows with dust‐proof covers.
- Have a bath or shower before going to bed.
- Avoid eating in bed or on soft furnishings where dust mites abound.
- Wash bedding weekly in 55°C water.
- Vacuum regularly with a machine that has a HEPA filter.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom.
- Clean hard wood floors weekly with a damp cloth/mop/steam mop.
- Dust weekly with a damp or anti-static cloth.
- Removing visible mould with appropriate cleaners.
- Make sure homes are well ventilated and install an exhaust fan if necessary.
- Repair any plumbing leaks.
- Removing indoor pot plants (which promote mould growth).
- Avoid organic mulches and compost heaps.
- Keep pets outside if possible, and definitely out of the bedrooms.
- Get someone without an allergy to bathe and groom your pet(s) outdoors.
- Wash hands after touching or feeding pets.
- Keep pets off carpets and rugs.
How are allergies diagnosed?
If you suffer from allergies and you’re not sure what’s to blame, you may be advised to undergo allergy testing by your doctor. An allergy test will help you to find out which specific allergen is causing your symptoms and forms an important part of your treatment plan, which may include lifestyle changes, allergen avoidance and medication.
When should I see an allergy specialist?
Some allergy problems, such as mild hayfever, may not need specialist treatment, as the use of an over‐the‐counter antihistamine medication may be sufficient. More serious allergies can interfere with day to day activities or may even be life threatening. Allergy symptoms often develop slowly over time and you may get used to having them, but a specialist can help you to prevent or minimise these and by doing so, improve your quality of life.
You should see an allergy specialist if:
- You experience hayfever symptoms for several months of the year.
- Over‐the‐counter medicines don’t control your symptoms.
- Your allergies get in the way of carrying out daily activities.
- Your allergies are causing chronic sinus infections, nasal congestion or difficulty breathing.
- You experience signs of a serious allergy such as wheezing or coughing especially after exercise, struggling to catch your breath, or being frequently out of breath.
What is allergy testing?
Allergy testing is usually performed in cases of suspected hayfever, or reactions to certain foods and insect venom. When testing for hayfever, the substances used usually include house dust mites, cat and dog dander (other animals may be included where relevant e.g. horses), mould spores, and pollen from weeds, grasses and trees. In some cases, occupational allergens may be included if the person comes into contact with them during their daily work.
What happens in an allergy test?
There are three types of allergy skin tests: skin prick tests, intradermal tests and patch tests.
1. Skin prick test
Skin prick testing is the most common allergy test, as it’s quick, convenient and results are usually available within 20 minutes. This test is most often used to detect allergies to mould, pollen, pet dander, dust mites and insect venom.
Prick testing involves exposing the skin to different allergens and checking the area for any sign of an allergic reaction. If an allergen causes a reaction in the skin, you will experience reddening, swelling or an itchy, raised bump where the substance was applied. The size of the swelling determines how severe the allergy is: a large area of swelling shows a higher sensitivity to the allergen in question.
2. Intradermal test
This is often performed when insect venom is the suspected allergen. The allergen extract is injected under the skin and the area is then observed for 15 to 20 minutes. Intradermal testing is more accurate and is usually used when the results of a skin prick test are inconclusive.
3. Patch test
Patch testing is used for allergic skin irritation and detects delayed allergic reactions. This form of testing does not require any needles. The allergen is placed on a patch, that is then applied to the skin for up to 48 hours. A patch test allows for up to 30 allergens to be tested at once, including fragrances, latex, hair dyes, metals and preservatives. After the allotted time, the person being tested returns to the doctor and the patches are removed. Skin irritation at the patch site may indicate an allergy.
1 ASCIA 2019. Asthma and Allergy; A guide to the management of allergy for those living with asthma. https://www.nationalasthma.org.au/living-with-asthma/resources/patients-carers/brochures/asthma-allergy#hcy Accessed 18 April 2019.
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