Hay fever, which is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms, occurs when the immune system overreacts to normally harmless airborne substances.
Many Americans suffer from hay fever symptoms, and allergy specialists can use a number of tests to determine what’s causing the symptoms. In this blog, allergy specialist Ulrike Ziegner, MD, of Riviera Allergy Medical Center, explains what hay fever is, how it’s tested, and how you can get relief.
What is hay fever?
The term hay fever is a misnomer. Known medically as allergic rhinitis, hay fever isn’t caused by hay, and it doesn’t cause a fever. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies harmless substances that are inhaled as foreign invaders. The symptoms are the result of an immune system reaction. Symptoms can include:
- Itchy eyes
- Red eyes
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose
- Watery eyes
Inhaling the normally harmless particles ― called allergens ― is what triggers the hay fever symptoms. The most common triggers are:
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
Skin prick test
Skin prick testing is the most common test used to help diagnose allergies, such as hay fever. Also called a scratch test, skin prick testing allows Dr. Ziegner to check for an allergic reaction to several different substances at once. With this test, which is virtually painless, Dr. Ziegner pricks your skin and introduces small amounts of allergens and checks for signs of a reaction.
If you have a reaction, your immune system will release histamine and produce a red, itchy bump called a “wheal.” After introducing the allergens, Dr. Ziegner usually waits about 20 minutes before examining the area for a reaction.
Intradermal testing is another type of skin test that helps diagnose allergies. This test involves injecting a small amount of an allergen just under the surface of your skin. Intradermal testing is more sensitive than skin prick testing. Dr. Ziegner may order intradermal testing if you have no reaction to skin prick testing or if Dr. Ziegner has a high suspicion that you’re allergic to a particular substance.
As with skin prick testing, Dr. Ziegner usually waits about 20 minutes before examining the area for a reaction.
Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is a type of antibody your immune system produces to protect your body from bacteria and other harmful organisms. An IgE test measures the level of antibodies in your blood. While a small amount of IgE is normally always present in blood, Dr. Ziegner will check for the amount of IgE that is specific to individual allergens.
To do an IgE test, a sample of your blood is drawn, which should only take a few minutes. Then your blood is processed, and your results should be available in a few days.
Symptoms of hay fever can make you feel miserable. If you’re struggling with symptoms or want to see if you have hay fever, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment with Riviera Allergy Medical Center today at (310) 792 9050.