An allergy is the body’s hypersensitive immune response to an allergen. Different substances cause varying degrees of allergic reactions for each individual. Some common allergens include pet dander, mold, insect venom and pollen. Some people may even have a reaction to materials like latex, wool, or cotton. Hay fever is one of the most well-known types of allergy, though food allergies are becoming much more common. An acute reaction to an allergen results in anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition which requires immediate emergency care. Allergies can be treated with over-the-counter medications, prescription medicines such as inhalers, or through shots administered by a physician.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes swelling and inflammation in the airways, or bronchi, of the lungs. Asthma makes breathing difficult and results in a labored wheezing breath. An individual with asthma can be more susceptible and sensitive to airborne allergens like dust, pollen, or pet dander. When the already irritated airways come into contact with an allergen, they swell, even more, further constricting lung function resulting in an asthma attack. Asthma affects nearly 26 million Americans.
Pulmonary function tests, or PFTs, are a group of tests which measure how well a person’s lungs work. This includes how well he or she is able to breathe and how effective the lungs are bringing oxygen to the rest of the body. The doctor may order these tests when there are:
PFTs are divided into two types: spirometry and plethysmography. Spirometry measures the amount of air a person inhales and exhales. For this test, the patient will sit in front of the device and use a mouthpiece. Patients will also wear a nose clip to stop them from breathing air out of the nose. Usually, patients are asked to either breathe in and out as deeply or as quickly as possible for several seconds. A medication which opens the airways or certain gasses such as oxygen, helium, or carbon dioxide is often used to see if it affects lung function. Physicians may also introduce a “tracer gas” to test how effectively the lungs are able to transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide between the bloodstream. A plethysmography test measures the volume of gas in the lungs. For this test, patients will sit or stand in a small booth and breathe into a mouthpiece. The doctor can learn about lung volume by evaluating the pressure in the booth.
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