It is my pleasure to present today, Sherilyn Powers on her blog tour
Allergy testing – no rabbits were harmed in the making of this blog
Allergy testing is like pregnancy testing. It isn’t always accurate. However, allergy testing isn’t as black and white as pregnancy testing. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, but you can be a little bit “allergic”.
My last blog was on a miraculous event with “Julie” finding out a 50 year old diagnosis of depression was actually very severe seasonal allergies. Now before everyone runs out and gets all excited about getting allergy tests and solving their life’s problems – we have to know a little more about these tests.
According to the Mayo Clinic, an allergy is an immune response to a substance the body sees as a threat and develops anti-bodies to combat. So the theory is that you can test the blood to see if there are any anti-bodies built up to specific substances. It is simple in theory but as with most things in life that have to do with humans – it’s never that easy.
We all have anti-bodies running around our systems. Someone has decided what the acceptable “normal” range for these anti-bodies was for almost everything and then we get tested we are slotted in to the reaction scale based on how high we are above the norm.
Can anyone see any issues with this? Yes! Some people are just abnormally in the normal range when they are sick. (We humans notoriously struggle against being put in nice and tidy categories – scientists and doctors/labs try very hard to ignore these people, hoping they will go away and not exist, but we will survive!)
Allergy testing is a nice place to start – but it isn’t 100% reliable. For one thing – your strength of reaction on an allergy test is not an indication of how strongly you will react to actual exposure to the substance.
What does this mean? Well, with the skin prick test they have a control (pure histamine) that they compare all other reactions too. So how you respond to this histamine (the size of the bump) and the other substances is what determines if you are a candidate for desensitization shots.
Just because your bump to mixed grasses doesn’t get bigger than the control and you aren’t a candidate for desensitization shots doesn’t mean that you don’t get extremely runny eyes, sneeze like crazy, get sinus congestion and debilitating headaches (and tiredness and depression. Let’s not forget those!)
Also, just because your reaction to mixed grasses DOES get bigger than the control doesn’t mean that your reactions are even noticeable by you -lack of motivation, tired, easily upset – no, that’s not a reaction to anything, you are just under a lot of stress. (I really need to have a sarcasm ”smiley” in here.)
The other problem is you may test negative to something you KNOW you react to. In my case it is soy. I love tofu and soy beans and soya sauce, but I know if I eat soy I will get sick. It happens all the time, but I have never tested positive to soy. I’ve had the skin prick test and the blood tests over several years. Negatory.
One allergist I came across put it very well. Basically, he feels that you don’t know for sure you are allergic to something until you have a positive test backed by a reaction. Even then you can still have sensitivities to something (and not test positive for an allergy) and have very strong reactions.
Does this mean you shouldn’t get tested? No. You need to start somewhere. Allergies or sensitivities tend to build up in layers and we need to get rid of them somewhat the same way. Normally you aren’t born being allergic to 47 things. There are many different theories on how allergies develop but without getting into that controversy, mostly people develop allergies over time.
So take the test results and eliminate as much as you possibly can. Believe me, being allergic or sensitive to many things is frustrating at first but with everyone starting to become so aware you can now eat in restaurants with most allergies (10 years ago being gluten free was impossible now a lot of chain restaurants have gluten free menus!) and most grocery stores are good about carrying a variety of products for those of us who are allergic. Reading labels becomes a way of life and seriously – being allergic to things makes you eat healthier. You get so tired of reading labels that if something has more than three ingredients, it’s just not worth the trouble to read through them so you put it back! However, chocolate muffins are always worth checking the whole list out.
The wonderful thing is (well, you may not think it wonderful at first) when you eliminate a large part of your allergens/sensitivities, your body isn’t quite so overwhelmed so when you start finding other things you are reacting to, it’s a bigger and more noticeable reaction.
Why? Why can you have these allergies or sensitivities for so long and not even know it but suddenly they start causing bigger reactions when you begin reducing your allergy load?
I have a theory on that.
Over the years, with our allergies going untreated and adding more all the time, our body’s defenses are just swamped and can’t react anymore. I’ve heard hundreds of times “I used to sneeze lots as a kid but I don’t any more so I must have outgrown my allergies” – then we find out they still have the allergies but no “identifiable” reactions.
Remember Julie? She was one of those people. Once she started on desensitization shots and anti-histamines she noticed something very unusual. About 40 minutes after taking an anti-histamine she would start to sneeze violently and continue for quite a long time. When allergy season hit full force she stopped sneezing again. She could tell she was still having major reactions but no sneezing even after taking her anti-histamine. As allergy season was ending, the sneezing came back – even to the point where she was sneezing at other times, not just when she took an anti-histamine. So as the allergens lessened her body seemed to have the capacity to react more than at the height of the season when it was too overwhelmed.
Julie also thought she didn’t have any food allergies. She had eaten specific foods all her life and had “never had an allergic reaction.” Once we started eliminating certain foods from Julie’s diet and then re-introducing them, she noticed small reactions. When we eliminated those foods completely from her diet she started noticing stronger reactions to other foods that she’d started to suspect. The more we took out of her diet (and the more the environmental allergy triggers were reduced) the more immediate and drastic her reactions to specific things became. It got easier for her to recognize her own personal symptoms and triggers.
So, allergy testing does have its place. Just remember that it is not 100% accurate and is not an indicator of how intense your personal reactions will be.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay safe!
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