By Karin Krisher
Let’s talk about something that’s on everybody’s minds. And skin. And noses and eyes. Let’s talk about allergies. Talking to your patients about allergies is crucial to their everyday health and peace of mind.
While most patients don’t need to know the details of IgE activation to feel like they’re safe from hives and anaphylaxis, they probably do need some counsel on what allergies they don’t have, and on those symptoms to which they should actually pay attention.
Because mild allergies are so common in the human population, it’s important to take the conversation about determining atopy slowly. First, consider the fact that allergies are somewhat psychosomatic. Despite their obvious realness, allergic reactions can be influenced by both behavior and emotion (especially because emotion is the manifestation of a chemical cascade.)
It’s important to keep this in mind because your patients may be easily influenced by your diagnosis, or conversely, may be averse to the idea that their perception of their own allergies may be incorrect. With this idea as the undercurrent for your conversation, take it slowly.
Begin with the idea that allergies are malleable.
They change. That doesn’t mean your patients should ignore signs of allergic reaction—only that they should understand that allergies can develop and conversely disappear through changes in time and environment. Beginning with this fun fact will set the stage for your patients’ open-mindedness.
Next, talk about allergic history, including parental predisposition to allergies, but again, be wary. Despite your information about malleability, many people still may assume that a one-time reaction denotes a severe and lasting allergy and be resistant to the idea that their dad’s foot rash in eighth grade wasn’t indicative of anything except poor hygiene.
With an established allergic history in mind, approach the concept of an allergy test.
Testing for allergies is a relatively recent advent that now encompasses a variety of methods for a variety of allergens. You can either move forward with skin or blood tests with determined precautions or recommend an allergist for the job. These specialists are especially important to the skin-testing process, as it bears some risk.
During this time, it would be appropriate to also address the many Complementary and Alternative Medicine options available for allergy support, such as dietary analysis and subsequent supplementation.
However the conversation flows, be sure that you are sensitive to the very real misconceptions surrounding allergies and self-diagnosis.