One in five people in the United States have at least one type of allergy, including hay fever, food, drug, and latex allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Despite this high prevalence, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about allergies floating around – including what, exactly, an allergy is. We've dug into the scientific literature and spoke with allergy experts Drs. Jeffrey Stokes and Marc Riedl to bring you the truth about allergies, and some general guidelines to follow if you've been diagnosed with them (or suspect you may have them).
Allergies have very specific symptoms. "People assume that if they have a runny nose or some other symptom, like a rash, that's an allergy," says Riedl. "But there are lots of reasons to have runny noses and lots of reasons to have rashes." If you think you may have allergies, look at all of your symptoms and take note of when they arise. For example, runny nose and sneezing aren't the only symptoms of outdoor allergies caused by pollen and mold spores – the allergies are also marked by itchy, watery eyes. So if you live in the Midwest and experience these symptoms a lot during ragweed season (August through October), you may be allergic to ragweed pollen
Your best bet is to get tested by a doctor. Two types of tests are available: blood tests that detect different IgE antibodies, and skin tests that look for reactions after exposing the skin to various allergens. Don't depend on at-home blood tests, which may produce false positives – people do develop IgE antibodies without having allergic reactions, so it's difficult to get an accurate diagnosis without discussing your actual symptoms and family history with a doctor.
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