If you have allergies, you know they can make you miserable. But are they a problem for life, or can you grow out of them?
Allergist/immunologist Lily Pien, MD, answers common questions about how allergies work, the importance of testing and what you need to know before choosing a doctor.
How do allergies work on your body?
Allergies are a common problem that researchers believe affect 50 million people in the United States. They happen when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance in your body.
Common triggers include pollen, dust mites, mold, animal dander, insect stings, drugs and food.
In some cases, your body sees the substance as a threat and makes immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies that release histamine, which, in turn, causes allergic reactions. Reactions can range from mild to severe, and may include cold-like symptoms, rash or swelling, hives and respiratory problems.
Can you outgrow an allergy?
Dr. Pien says there’s not a definite answer to that question. She says, “Some individuals can lose clinical symptoms to allergens — which can occur with some medication allergies, such as penicillin. Children can sometimes outgrow food allergies like milk and eggs, and mild reactions to venom from insect stings.”
For some, exposure causes the body to produce IgE antibodies, but there may not be any obvious clinical symptoms, she says.
“There has been a recent shift in how we manage pediatric food allergies,” she says. “Building tolerance by offering increasingly larger amounts of an allergen may help those who are at risk for development of food allergies. Patients need to discuss this strategy with their physicians as this is a new and evolving practice.”
This approach is definitely not something you should try on your own at home. Always work with an allergist, Dr. Pien says.
What if you’re not sure if it’s really allergies?
If you have allergies or suspect that you might, it’s a good idea to work with a board-certified allergist who can arrange for proper allergy testing, Dr. Pien says.
Recent advancements in testing materials are yielding more accurate allergy diagnoses, she says. If you suspect you may have outgrown an allergy, talk with your doctor about your diagnosis and find out whether getting retested makes sense.