We asked Miles Price, Clinical Nutritionist and Certified IFM Functional Medicine Practitioner of LifeClinic Hong Kong, to give us the lowdown on allergies—from causes to treatments and everything you need to know about allergy testing
Do you experience a frustrating amount of allergies when season changes, such as coughing, watery eyes and sneezing? Or, maybe you suffer from a breakout or even feeling nauseous after a night at your favourite restaurant? It’s very likely that your body is allergic to particular food or substances, that you need to pay closer attention to your health and find out what’s the cause behind all those unexplained symptoms.
Like any health issue, allergies can feel stressful and difficult to deal with. But according to medical experts, a good part of this misery is due to misconception. With proper education about allergens and the right allergy testing performed, you could easily get a better understanding of your body, minimise discomfort, and most importantly, prevent life-threatening allergic reactions. Because the sooner those allergens identified, the sooner they can be treated and controlled.
We spoke to Miles Price, Clinical Nutritionist and Certified IFM Functional Medicine Practitioner of LifeClinic Hong Kong, to learn everything about allergies, including the causes, symptoms, why should we take them seriously and consider allergy testing for better health. Additionally, we’ve also included a list of places in Hong Kong where you can get a quick and accurate allergy test.
What are the types of allergies? What are the symptoms?
Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a particular substance—this can be presented in food or environment, such as pollen, dust and animal dander. When triggered, the immune system will produce antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight against invading organisms, thus resulting in an excess amount of chemicals, histamines, which will in turn lead to allergy symptoms. For example, redness, watery or itchy eyes, sneezing, congesting, coughing and swelling.
To be specific, allergens can be categorised into three types: contact allergens that come in contact with the skin to produce reactions including hives and eczema; inhaled allergens that affect the respiratory membranes of the nose, mouth and lungs, resulting in symptoms such as asthma and difficulty breathing; and lastly, ingested allergens that caused by foods your immune system sees as the "invader". Fish, soy, eggs and milk are some of the most common food allergies that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting.
When it comes to food allergies, one should be aware of the differences between a food allergy and food intolerance. While a food allergy involves an immune system response and the production of antibodies to fight the allergens off, food intolerance does not. It occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough enzymes to digest certain foods properly. One of the most common examples of food intolerance is lactose intolerance, which refers to the inability to break down lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. According to research, lactose intolerance is especially prevalent in the Asian community, affecting around 70-90% of the population.
What types of allergy test are available?
There are several ways to find out what are the substances that causing your allergy symptoms, and the most common type of allergy test is skin prick test, which involves applying an extract of an allergen to the skin to evaluate the reactions. Though it’s fast and easy to perform, the test is not recommended for people who have been using steroids or experiencing severe dermatitis. There’s also a risk of yielding false positives, as a high variation in the types of antigens are used in testing.
Blood test is an ideal option for those who couldn’t undergo skin tests, which requires taking a sample of your blood and sending it to a laboratory to detect allergens.
There’s also the food challenge diet test, which involves eating certain foods to check if any allergic symptoms occur. Patients are required to do an elimination diet, where suspected food items in small amounts are added and removed back and forth during the process of observing the responses. However, this method is quite time consuming and comes with risks if not properly monitored by clinicians.
Why is it important to do an allergy test?
Statistics have long been indicating allergies are one of the most common chronic diseases in the world, with a large population suffering from a whole host of allergic responses including asthma, eczema, dermatitis and gut issues. According to Hong Kong statistics on epidemiology, around 7-10% of the population has asthma, 5% of people suffers from eczema and food allergy respectively.
The symptoms can range from mild to chronic and even life-threatening if not treated properly, so it’s important to perform allergy testing to find the right treatment plan to reduce or stop the allergy symptoms promptly. And if you’re unsure about your health conditions, you should also consider doing a test after consulting your doctor.
How to prepare for the tests?
Before performing any test, the doctor will ask you detailed questions about your medical history, lifestyle habits and allergic symptoms to make sure you get the right tests. To prepare for a test, you’ll likely need to stop taking any allergy medications a week before the appointment.
Where to get an allergy test in Hong Kong?
Founded by a group of healthcare professionals across the US, Australia, China and Hong Kong, LifeHub is one of the city’s leading medical wellness centres that dedicated to offering quality health services and products to improve busy urbanites’ health and quality of life.
Currently, they are offering a food intolerance test that can identify the foods that cause an IgE immune response, indicating the food groups that your body is likely to be intolerant to. Your blood sample will be tested against 96 international food items, 96 Asian food items, or a total of 184 food items. Once the intolerant foods are identified, the specialist will give you expert advice on how to eliminate those items from your diet and choose better, suitable food options for a healthy lifestyle. They also offer heavy metal and mineral tests if you’re looking to treat your skin allergies.
LifeHub, 1/F, The Loop, 33 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 3622 3453; thelifehub.com
Founded by Danny Yeung, the mastermind behind Prenetics—a Hong Kong biotech company that is known as the leading provider of rapid Covid-19 tests—Circle DNA has a reputation for offering accurate at-home kits that can help you detect disease risk, personality and behavioural traits, as well as food sensitivities.
Easy and convenient to use, Circle DNA’s test kits are offered in several categories to suit different health goals, ranging from the basic option to the premium package that includes over 500 reports detailing every aspect of health. For the allergy testing part, the test will help you identify environmental and food allergens, where you’ll also be able to discover your optimal diet type and nutrient needs in the report.
Find out more at circledna.com/en-hk
Centre for Allergy and Asthma Care
Led by a team of certified specialists in allergy and immunology, the Centre for Allergy and Asthma Care delivers an extensive range of allergy diagnoses and treatments. In addition to skin prick tests and blood tests for food allergens, environmental allergens and contact allergens, the centre also offers challenge tasting for food and drugs, as well as lung function testing to diagnose asthma and monitor the effectiveness of asthma treatments.
Centre for Allergy and Asthma Care, Suite 1428, Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2818 0180; allergy.hk
Boasting an advanced and well-equipped medical testing laboratory in Kwun Tong, KingMed Diagnostics has a reputation for offering allergy tests that promise quick, accurate results. Aside from the usual tests for inhalant allergens and food allergens, this place also includes advanced tests featuring South China IgE Allergy profile, which covers total IgE and a range of common food allergens such as seafood and nuts.
KingMed Diagnostics, various locations across Hong Kong; kingmed.com.hk