Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Allergy testing at North Shore Medical Centre (13th September 2011)

Back in July, I went to see my GP about my constant break out of hives. I do get the odd allergic reaction to bug bites or grass when I've been out on walks but the recent series of break outs were just getting way out of hand - I'm living in the city for Christ sake! What could I possibly be allergic to??! My ears are red, my neck is red and so is my d├ęcolletage, arms and thighs - argh, I can't stop scratching myself!

According to the GP, hives - skin rash of pale red, raised, itchy bumps aka wheals - tend to be caused by an allergic reaction which could be from medication, food or physical agents. "Perhaps you are allergic to Sydney," joked the doctor, who added further that it usually takes migrants a few years before they develop allergies to their new home country. True, I was never allergic to bug bites until three years into living in Wellington and in recent years, developed hives mostly during summer. But how do I explain THIS? There was nothing the doctor could do for me except provide a referral for an allergy test which in hope would give us some answers to my issue. I was told to take anti-histamine tablets whenever I found the itch too much to bear - pretty much what I've been doing so far. Interestingly, only the 180g anti-histamine tablets work for me AND they are the more expensive ones too :/

Finally, after the 2-month wait for my appointment, I took off work early today to see Dr Andrew Broadfoot, a specialist in immunology and allergy at North Shore Medical Centre in St Leonards for an allergy test. Looking through the list of names on the directory board in the foyer, I headed up the lifts to Level 2 but there was no reception area in sight. The floor had several rooms/suites, all with closed doors and name plates of the doctors stuck outside. My doctor was in Suite 7 but I wasn't sure whether to enter through the closed door. I could hear voices coming through from the other side which strangely sounded like there were more than five people in the consultation room. "The doctor couldn't possibly be seeing that many people at a time," I thought to myself, and at that moment, a mother and daughter walked out through the door. Ah, as it turned out, the door opens into a reception and waiting area, as well as the consultation room. I reckon they could do better with a sign that says 'Please come in' on the door - at least that causes less confusion for first-timers seeing the doctor at this medical centre.

There were three other patients ahead of me who were here for various vaccinations and it took another 15 minutes before I was seen by the doctor. I did a bit of research prior to my visit about allergy testing to prepare myself for what to expect - the test conducted was the skin prick test, which was the most convenient and least expensive of the available methods for allergy testing. The doctor had trays of sterile lancets in a rectangle grid of eight, each dipped in an allergen extract. Individual trays were pressed onto an area on my forearm, a small prick made by each lancet which allowed a tiny amount of the allergens to enter the skin. The prick wasn't painful - it felt like toothpick pricks and wasn't deep enough to cause bleeding. Forty-eight individual allergens were tested on me; one was a positive control histamine (this was to ensure that the skin was reacting accordingly to the histamine), sixteen of them were inhalant allergens such as dust mite, domestic pets and plants, and the remaining were food allergens such as nuts, seafood and wheat. Both my forearms where covered with little red dots by the time the doctor completed the pricks! 

It takes 20 minutes for the results to show so back I was in the waiting room until time was up. Some of the dots have started turning into wheals - itchy but I was told I couldn't touch them. I'm allergic to something alright...

My right forearm just 5 minutes post skin prick

It was fascinating to see how my skin reacted to the allergens and to some extent, I was quite excited to find out what I'm actually allergic to. I was called back into the consultation room where the doctor discussed the results of the test with me, going through them one by one and cross-checking it with my medical history and previous allergic incidents. My skin was definitely reacting as supposed to because I had a wheal for the positive control histamine. I'm most allergic to dust mite (the wheal was 2-4mm in size indicating a moderate allergy) and also mildly allergic to horse, crustacean (that explains why my lips swell when I have too much crab, prawn or lobster), olive tree pollen, yeast, tomato and banana though the doctor reckoned the last three allergens gave false positive results since I haven't had any issues when these food were consumed. Fortunately I'm not allergic to staple food like rice, egg and milk - it would be terrible if I was and eating out would be a nightmare!

The doctor's advice for me was to avoid exposure to these allergens that I'm allergic to and carry anti-histamine tablets with me so I can take them as and when necessary. The consultation and testing cost $350 and though I walked out of the medical centre financially poorer, I'm glad I do not have severe allergies and now know for a fact what exactly I'm allergic to and how to deal with them. If you suspect you may have allergies, consider getting an allergy test done so you can better manage and cope with the break outs. Don't just put up with it!


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