Communicating with Your Doctor Regarding Allergies

Whether it’s your first visit to the doctor regarding allergies, or a follow up, you need to be able to leave the office feeling sure of yourself, your practitioner, and your treatment. You need to feel all your questions and concerns have been addressed. That, however, is easier said than done. We all have probably left the doctor’s office at one time or another a bit confused or wishing we had just been a little more persistent or paid a little better attention, I know that I have. Maybe we wished our friend was there so we could ask him what exactly the doctor meant when she said that. The following is a list to help you through your first allergy visit or any subsequent visits during your treatments:

• Before going to your visit, write down a thorough list of your questions (no matter how trivial they seem) and take the list with you:

  • Can the severity of your allergy be determined?
  • What kind of test do you need and will this be repeated and when?
  • What is the correct dosage of your medication?
  • When exactly will you need to medicate? (This will differ on your allergy, i.e. you may need daily medication with hay fever, or need to know the symptoms of anaphylaxis for treatment of a severe food allergy.)
  • When should you seek immediate help or call the doctor?
  • What are the treatments options, i.e. shots, medication, avoidance, etc?
  • What do you need to avoid and what is the best way to do so?
  • With food, do you need to stay away from “traces” and “shared equipment/facility” products (the answer is usually yes)?
  • Should you medicate before outdoor activity if you have insect allergies or hay fever?
  • When do you need to follow up with your doctor?
  • Will any of your allergy medication interfere with any of your current medication?
  • What are the side effects of your allergy medication?
  • What are the risks of not taking medication?
  • What is the long term diagnosis? Is it likely you will grow out of this allergy? Will other health risks develop (asthma, etc.)?

• Bring a pen so you can take notes when speaking to your practitioner. It’s hard to absorb everything you are being told at once and having it in writing provides you an opportunity to review it later.

• If possible, have someone go with you. Even if you are the parent and your child is the patient, another set of adult ears is always helpful. Your partner may remember something you forget during the visit.

• Make a list of all symptoms, if possible a diary of times when symptoms are worse and the precursors to the symptoms, whether the allergy is food or environmental. Often times if you have good records your doctor can find the allergen when you have missed the connection

• Call ahead if you feel you need more time with the doctor to let the office know.

• Ask if there is someone in the office who specializes in education. Many allergists have these practitioners on staff and you can set up an appointment with them as well.

• Be persistent if you don’t understand something. Speak up and ask for it in “simpler terms,” don’t feel embarrassed, feel empowered. Don’t be afraid to ask for something to be repeated.

• Ask if there are any patients or parents you can contact that may be able to lend you support or answer any further questions. Many offices have this network and may even offer support groups for allergies and asthma.

• Be certain you understand about what to avoid and what is safe and when to use your medication.

Most importantly, remember your doctor is there to help keep you and your family healthy and safe; you need to be partners in this. If you feel he or she is not providing you adequate time or information, let him know or find someone else. Don’t be intimidated or feel you are taking up too much time; you are the patient, you deserve to feel confident.

– Heather Legg

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