Take Control of Your Allergies

Know your enemy

If you are all too aware of your watery eyes, stuffy nose, and clogged head but not sure of the cause, do some research. Since your allergies can be in response to virtually any food, airborne substance, or chemical, you must first figure out the culprit before knowing how to best treat the problem. Here are some ways to determine your triggers:

  • Ask your healthcare provider to perform a blood test for food and chemical sensitivities
  • Keep a journal of your symptoms, including where you went and what you did, ate, wore, and so on, when you had them. Look for patterns
  • A food-elimination diet can help you pinpoint problem foods

Diagnosing an allergy

If you think you have an allergy, tell your GP about the symptoms you are having, when they happen, how often they occur and if anything seems to trigger them. Your GP will also want to know if any family members have similar symptoms, or if there is a family history of allergy. After asking about your allergy history, your GP may carry out tests to identify the allergen that is causing your symptoms, or refer you to a specialist at an allergy clinic. There are NHS allergy clinics across the UK, so you shouldn't have to travel far. Even if you think you know what is causing the allergic reaction, you may need to be tested to determine the exact allergen and get a definite diagnosis. The type of test you are offered will depend on your symptoms, the condition of your skin and any medication you are taking. Possible tests include:

  • Skin prick test: This is usually the first test to be done when looking for an allergen. The skin is pricked with a tiny amount of the suspected allergen to see if there is a reaction. If there is, the skin around the prick will very quickly become itchy, red and swollen
  • Blood test: This is used to measure the amount of IgE antibodies in your blood that have been produced by your immune system in response to a suspected allergen. The results are given on a scale from zero to six: zero indicates a negative result and six indicates an extremely high sensitivity. Blood tests are particularly useful when you are at risk of an extreme reaction or when a rare allergen is suspected
  • Patch test: This test is used to find an allergen causing eczema (contact dermatitis). A small amount of the suspected allergen is added to special metal discs, which are then taped to your skin for 48 hours and monitored for a reaction. This test is usually carried out at a dermatology (skin) department in a hospital

Find food foes

If you suspect your morning bagel or grilled-cheese lunch might be causing your symptoms, it's time to find out. Temporarily following an elimination diet or a hypo-allergenic diet can pinpoint common allergens such as wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, citrus fruits, nuts, peanuts, tomatoes, food colouring and preservatives, coffee, and chocolate. Some popular books offer guidance for people attempting this type of diet. Once you have figured out which foods are causing a reaction, simply avoid them. Frequently, even those foods can be added back into the diet over time and in moderation.

Clean house

Many of the most common allergens can be lurking in places you would not expect, such as your bedroom or under the kitchen sink. To cut down on household allergens try the following:
  • Keep the humidity in your house below 50% to help prevent mites
  • Vacuum and mop regularly
  • Choose chemical-free bedding
  • Cover your mattress and pillows with hypo-allergenic coverings
  • Wash linens weekly in hot water
  • Replace heating filters regularly
  • Use natural cleaning products
  • Use natural cosmetics, soaps, and shampoos
  • Limit pet access to sleeping areas

Use sneeze-stopping supplements

Some people have found these natural treatments helpful to reduce allergy symptoms:

  • Probiotic supplements keep a healthy dose of good bacteria in the gut, which improves digestion. They may help control food allergies by aiding the intestinal tract in controlling the absorption of food allergens and by changing immune-system responses to foods
  • Proteolytic enzymes may reduce allergy symptoms triggered by partially undigested protein because they help to further break down undigested protein into sizes that are too small to cause allergic reactions
  • Vitamin C and flavonoids including quercetin can exert natural antihistamine effects and, therefore, may help ease allergic reactions caused by the release of histamine

Think ahead

As you've probably already learned, paying attention to your body's reactions can help you head off allergy problems before they start. Some forethought will help you avoid getting caught off guard when you're out of your regular element:

  • For dinner parties, weddings, and other social events that involve eating, inquire about making special arrangements to accommodate your food allergies
  • If you have animal allergies, find out if friends and family have pets that may affect you before visiting and plan accordingly
  • Hay fever sufferers should avoid open-air exercise and social events during the height of pollen season
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