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Allergen: A substance that triggers an allergic reaction.

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Allergic Rhinitis: An allergy affecting the mucus membrane of the nose. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often called "hay fever."

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Allergist: A doctor that diagnoses, treats, and manages allergy-related conditions.

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Ana-Kit: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

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Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening allergic reaction that involves the entire body. Anaphylaxis may result in shock or death, and thus requires immediate medical attention

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Animal dander: The small scales or pieces of skin, often containing proteins secreted by oil glands, which are shed by an animal. These proteins are the major causes of allergies to pets.

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Antibiotics: A class of medications used to treat bacterial infections. Certain antibiotics, such as penicillin, may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Antibody: A protein in the immune system that recognizes and attacks foreign substances in the body.

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Anticonvulsant: A medication used to prevent or treat seizures. Certain anticonvulsants may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Antihistamines: A class of medications used to block the action of histamines in the body and prevent the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

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Asthma: An inflammatory disorder of the airways, causing periodic attacks of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

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Atopic dermatitis: A chronic skin rash, also known as "eczema," that often appears in the first few years of life.

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Basophil: An immune system cell that attaches to antibodies and circulates through out the blood.

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Beta-blockers: A class of blood pressure medications that ease the heart's pumping action and widen the blood vessels. Beta-blockers counteract the effects of epinephrine used for emergency treatment of anaphylactic shock and should not be used during immunotherapy.

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Bronchial tubes: The lower sections of the airway that lead into the lungs.

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Challenge test: A test used to confirm an allergy to specific substance. A doctor will administer small but increasing amounts of a suspected allergen until an allergic response is noticed. Due to the risk of anaphylaxis, this should only be performed under a controlled setting.

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Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the mucous membrane surrounding the eye. Also known as pinkeye.

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Contact dermatitis: An allergic reaction resulting from skin contact to an allergen.

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Corticosteroid: An anti-inflammatory medication used to treat the itching and swelling associated with some allergic reactions.

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Cromolym sodium: An anti-inflammatory nasal spray used to treat and sometimes prevent allergic rhinitis.

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Decongestants: A class of medications used for nasal congestion. Decongestants are available in oral doses, nasal sprays, or eye drops (for conjunctivitis).

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Dust mites: A microscopic organism that lives in dust.

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Eczema: See Atopic dermatitis.

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Eosinophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Epinepherine: A medication used for immediate treatment of anaphylaxis by raising blood pressure and heart rate back to normal levels. Epinepherine is also known as adrenaline.

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EpiPen: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

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Heparin: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

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Histamine: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

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Hives: See urticaria.

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Hypertension: High blood pressure. When blood pushes against artery walls harder than normal.

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Immunoglobulin E: A type of antibody responsible for most allergic reactions.

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Immunotherapy: A series of shots that help build up the immune system's tolerance to an allergen.

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Insulin: A hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Diabetics who take insulin derived from animals may have allergic reactions.

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Intradermal test: A test where an allergen is injected just underneath the skin. Intradermal tests are generally used when results from a skin prick test are unclear.

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Late Phase: The period 4 - 24 hours after exposure to an allergen where tissue damage may occur.

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Leukotrienes: Inflammatory substances that are released by mast cells during an allergic response or asthma attack.

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Lymphocyte: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Mast cell: An immune system cell which attaches to antibodies and is located in the tissue that lines the nose, bronchial tubes, gastrointestinal tract, and the skin

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Neocromil sodium: An inhaled medication used to treat inflammation involved with asthma.

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Neutrophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Otitis media: A middle ear infection. Otitis media with effusion occurs when fluid builds up within the ear.

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Radioallergosorbant Test (RAST): A blood test that measures the amount of IgE antibody produced when the sample is mixed with a specific allergen.

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Rhinitis: An inflammation of the nasal passageways, particularly with discharge.

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Sinusitis: An inflammation or infection of one or more sinuses. The sinuses are hollow air spaces located around the nose and eyes.

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Skin prick test: A test where a needle is used to scratch the skin with a small amount of allergen. A response can usually be seen within 15 - 20 minutes.

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Urticaria: Raised areas of the skin that are often red, warm, and itchy. Urticaria is also known as hives.

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Urushiol: An oil found on poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

Many people begin by self-treating their allergies with over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. But if your allergy symptoms don't improve, or you have unpleasant side effects from OTC medicines, you may need to see a health care provider.

Your primary care doctor can prescribe an allergy drug for you. Some prescription medicines have fewer side effects than some OTC drugs. (Read more about OTC versus prescription drugs in step 10.)

For many people, their allergies are bad enough that they wonder if they should see an allergist. You may even wonder what an allergist does. An allergist diagnoses, treats, and manages allergy-related conditions, like allergic rhinitis and asthma. Becoming an allergist or immunologist requires at least 9 years of medical training, followed by 2 - 3 more years of specialized study in asthma, allergy, and immunology. Those who are ABAI-certified passed the American Board of Allergy and Immunology's certification examination.

You should see an allergist if you have any of the following:

  • Anaphylaxis: Those who have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a food, a drug, or to exercise, and those who have had an anaphylactic reaction with no obvious trigger.
  • Food Allergy: Those who have been diagnosed with a food allergy, those who have limited their diet because they believe they have had reactions to food, those who have experienced hives, swelling, itch, wheezing or GI symptoms after eating a food, and those with or expecting a newborn who want counsel on identifying or preventing food allergies.
  • Insect Hypersensitivity: Those who have had reactions to insect stings or bites that extend beyond the part of the body with the wound.
  • Asthma: (see Asthma Guide.)
  • Allergic Conjunctivitis: Those whose eye allergies are prolonged or severe, who have found medications ineffective, or who also have other related conditions such as asthma or recurrent sinusitis.
  • Allergic Rhinitis: Those who have prolonged or severe symptoms or who have found medications to be ineffective.
  • Cough: Those with chronic cough of 3 - 8 weeks or more.
  • Atopic Dermatitis: Those responding poorly to treatment and those who want to identify the role of dust mite allergies or food allergies in their eczema.
  • Drug Allergies: Those with a suspected drug allergy who are likely to need that drug again.
  • Sinusitis: Those with chronic or recurrent sinus infections.
  • Hives: Those with severe hives caused by a food or drug, or with no known cause; those with chronic hives lasting 6 weeks or more.

Through testing, an allergist can identify the allergens that cause your symptoms. Your allergist can also help manage medication side effects, and offer advice on immunotherapy options.

If you suspect you are allergic to something and you've never been diagnosed, ask your primary care physician to refer you to an allergist, and find out if you have insurance coverage before making an appointment.

Reference

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Consultation and referral guidelines citing the evidence: how the allergist-immunologist can help. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006;117(Suppl 2):S495-523.

 

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Review Date: 4/4/2007

Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.


The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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