Allergy testing is used to determine the specific allergens that an individual may be sensitive to.
The symptoms that individuals are most familiar with are sneezing, itchiness, and watery eyes. There are many other symptoms which individuals may not be as familiar with such as:
- Nasal congestion
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Dermatitis or Eczema
- Constant headaches
- Hay Fever
The allergy test can be done by obtaining blood tests or having a skin test. Both tests can be done for people of all ages. The skin test offered consists of two parts. The first part of the allergy test helps identify airborne allergens such as trees, grasses, weeds, molds, and pet dander. The test also identifies common food allergens such as milk, eggs, peanuts, and different types of meat.
Prior to the test please notify the office if you are taking any medication such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and some heartburn medications. There are some medications that may produce a false negative result.
One in three Americans is affected by seasonal or year-round allergies, leading to chronic sleep troubles, poor focus, mood disorders, and infections and inflammation for millions of Americans. Though allergy symptoms can be fairly mild in some people, they can lead to utter misery in others and can translate to more missed workdays and loss of productivity.
Pet allergies and food allergies are also common, and many people may not be fully aware of their specific allergens. A full allergy testing panel can reveal your specific allergens, as well as the immunotherapy treatment options available to you.
An allergy is an immune response to the body’s exposure to a specific foreign substance. Research suggests that certain genetic mechanisms may give the body a tendency toward a specific allergen at birth, but most allergies are acquired through exposure and can occur at any age. Oddly, you can experience an allergic reaction to an allergen that you’ve been exposed to many times before without incident.
When your body decides that a specific allergen is now an invader — for whatever reason — you have developed an allergy to that foreign substance. During exposure, your immune system studies the allergen and prepares for another exposure by developing antibodies, which are designed to detect it. The next time you’re exposed to that foreign substance, your immune system recognizes it and activates cells in your body to disable it. These cells release a chemical called histamine, which causes swelling and other allergy symptoms.
Your body has a threshold of exposure for most allergens, meaning that it can handle a certain amount of a specific allergen. Too much exposure, however, and your body triggers an attack on this substance. Over time, you may outgrow an allergy and see your symptoms become less severe, or they may worsen.
Although food allergies and pet allergies may differ in severity from rhinitis (hay fever) or other common allergies, the symptoms of an allergic reaction are often similar. Usually, an individual having an allergic reaction experiences:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
Other, more severe reactions are referred to as symptoms of anaphylaxis. These are life-threatening and typically occur with exposure to drugs, penicillin, insect stings, food allergies (peanuts, shellfish), x-ray dye, and latex. Please seek emergency medical care if any of the below symptoms occur after exposure to an allergen:
- Tightness in the lungs or trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness, fainting
- Hives or welts
- Swelling of the throat, face, lips, or tongue
- Abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
Use of an over-the-counter antihistamine will help relieve your allergy symptoms by suppressing the antibodies that attack the allergens, but it will not cure you of your allergies. Two current treatment methods have been proven to cure or drastically reduce your body’s reaction to allergens: subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), which are injections or allergy drops that slowly acclimate the body to an allergen, reducing your immune response and effectively leaving you with few or no symptoms.
The process can take as long as three to five years, but you may find relief from your symptoms before the end of the treatment course, as your body becomes more habituated to these allergens.
Types of Allergy Tests
Skin Prick Test
The skin prick test is completed by having a small amount of allergen introduced in the skin of the forearm by a small prick (percutaneous). In small children the test may be done on the back. The results of the test will be evident within minutes of the initial prick. A positive result will look similar to a small mosquito bite with mild itchiness.
The second part of the allergy test consists of both a skin prick test and an intradermal test (intracutaneous). It is completed by introducing a small amount of allergen underneath the skin. A positive result will have mild itchiness as well as a slightly larger wheal than the initial wheal created. During the second part of the allergy test, a second skin prick test will be completed. The second skin prick test will determine any food allergies to allergens such as seafood and different types of fruit.
If a skin test and intradermal testing cannot be completed in the office, a blood test called in vitro allergen-specific IgE antibody test will be ordered. The test is not done as often because it tends to be less sensitive and is more expensive to patients. In vitro testing is not done on premises. Patients are referred to a laboratory and results are typically available within three days.
Side Effects & Risks With Allergy Testing
The most common side effect of skin testing is slightly swollen, red bumps, and hives. These side effects should go away within a few hours, but may last up to a couple of days.
In rare occasions, the skin test can produce a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Emergency medicine is kept in the office in those circumstances.
What To Expect From Allergy Testing
The allergy skin test is not painful. The needles used in the test will slightly penetrate your skin’s surface, but should not cause any bleeding. There should be only a slight momentary discomfort when the allergen is applied.
The results of the skin test and the intradermal test will be available at the time of the visit. The blood work will be submitted to the lab and will be available within three days. Once the allergens are identified, options such as methods of avoidance, medication management, and/or allergy immunotherapy (shots) can be discussed.