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You may think you know what is causing your symptoms―your grandma’s cat, pollen flying through the air every spring, or something you ate—but these reactions can be caused by anything from the common cold to irritants in the air. Don’t self-diagnose: Your symptoms could be unrelated to what you believe is the cause. Consult with your healthcare provider to get properly tested and diagnosed if you suspect allergies are the cause of symptoms.
A test to identify potential allergic triggers is used together with your medical history to help establish a diagnosis. Discovering what’s causing your symptoms is important so you know what precautions to take, and how to decrease your exposure to certain triggers. Having this information can help your healthcare provider create an optimal treatment plan for you.
With about one out of every three people suffering from some form of allergy1 and up to 80 percent of these people allergic to more than one substance,2 it’s important to identify all of your allergic triggers.
You have options when it comes to testing to identify allergic triggers, including blood tests, skin-prick tests, food challenge tests, and allergy provocation tests. Discover the pros and cons of each test and, together with your healthcare provider, decide which test is best for you.
A blood test is a quick and simple way to get answers to your underlying allergy questions. Also called a specific IgE (sIgE) blood test, this powerful tool can aid in accurately diagnosing your allergies by measuring the level of specific antibodies in the blood. These antibodies are an indicator of allergic sensitization and can help your healthcare provider determine if you are allergic and to what.
A small sample of blood is drawn and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results are returned a few days later for your healthcare provider to interpret. This powerful diagnostic tool can reveal potential sensitization to hundreds of possible allergens with one blood sample. Blood testing has fewer limitations on who can receive it or when it can be performed compared to other types of testing.
In a skin-prick test (SPT), your skin is directly exposed to suspected allergens and observed for signs of an allergic reaction. Although SPT can be done at a young age, the repeated scratching or pricking can be traumatic for small children. SPT can be difficult to use in the presence of a condition like eczema, if you are actively taking an antihistamine, or if you have darker skin, which may make it hard to read the results.4
SPT involves puncturing or scratching the upper layer of your skin, to introduce a very small amount of a suspected allergen to your immune system. A reaction similar to a mosquito bite may appear, usually within 20 minutes, indicating the presence of specific IgE for (sensitization to) this allergen.
A challenge test, in connection with a blood test or SPT, is a powerful diagnostic tool. Also called an oral food challenge (OFC), it is used to establish a correct diagnosis, which can be guided by the results from a SPT or blood test. A challenge test can be used to confirm a food allergy or to determine whether you have outgrown a food allergy.
When administered, a person is fed a small portion of a food that they have a suspected allergy to. They are monitored closely for any clinical symptoms, usually in a medical (clinic or hospital) setting. If there is no reaction, the patient consumes an increasingly larger portions of the food, up to a serving size. If a reaction occurs, the test stops.
A provocation test is very similar to a challenge test. The main difference is that this type of test is usually used to test for suspected respiratory, medication, or occupational allergy, not typically for food. Therefore, it can be performed in the nose, eyes or lungs, as well as the mouth.
In a provocation test, a person is exposed to small, but increasing quantities, of their suspected allergen and monitored closely for any clinical symptoms. If there is no reaction, they are given more until a response is seen. If symptoms occur, the test stops. This test is rarely performed, and when it is, it is usually done in a hospital setting.
Unlike skin-prick testing, there’s no risk that a blood test will trigger an allergic reaction. This is especially important if you or your child are at a higher risk for a life-threatening, anaphylactic reaction. And for infants and young children, a single needle prick for a blood sample may be less traumatic than the repeated scratching of a skin-prick test.
The results of your blood test, together with your detailed medical history and a physical examination, will help your healthcare provider develop a customized treatment plan that’s right for you.
Testing to identify allergic triggers is used, along with your medical history, to help establish a diagnosis.
Make sure to give your healthcare provider a full record of your symptoms. A blood test can help your healthcare provider determine if your symptoms are triggered by an allergic reaction, and if so, develop a treatment plan.