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Pattern Recognition in Allergy--An introduction

The other day I was driving down the road, and turned on the radio...flipping the channels, I realized it took me less than 1-2 seconds to instantly recognize whether a radio station I was listening to was playing "classical music", or "country western music", or "hard rock".  Of course, we all can do this--simply because we've had enough "experience" with music over the years to recognize different characteristic music "patterns" very quickly.  In fact, if we instantly recognize "classical music", we may not know the specific piece we're listening to...the uniqueness of each piece only comes with thorough listening.  In short, we can recognize broad patterns quickly in music, but realize that each piece is unique, and the longer we listen to it, the more likely we'll be able to identify its uniqueness (i.e., the composer).  

And so it is with the field of Allergy.

And although each patient is unique, they often present with a "pattern" we've seen before, which helps immensely in their diagnosis and management.   

Unfortunately, my own experience is that most allergists like to discuss specific isolated allergens (dust mite, mold, etc.) or specific disease states (allergic rhinitis, asthma), but pattern recognition in the diagnostic history  (i.e., characteristic relationships between multiple allergens over time in an individual) is sorely lacking.  And pattern recognition is critical to helping the allergist in deciding upon the appropriate diagnostic tests to run.  Indeed, if one is good at pattern recognition in taking the allergy history, then the subsequent allergy tests become almost an anticlimax.  

There's one hidden advantage for the allergist in knowing allergy patterns.  It makes the practice of allergy fun.  Why?  Nothing gives me more pleasure than to "put the pieces together" in a difficult diagnostic puzzle, and to virtually "know the answer" to a patient's problems before beginning testing.

So I've decided to start off the New Year with a series on pattern recognition in allergy.  In my next entry I'll be discussing mold allergy, with cross-sensitization to Candida and food yeast--a pattern I've frequently seen in patients.  

Later, Dude




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