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ALLERGY TESTING: UNDERSTANDING YOUR OPTIONS

About Testing for Allergies

Allergy testing is performed by a healthcare provider or allergy specialist to determine if your body is sensitized to a known substance, such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, or certain foods. If you suspect allergies are the cause of symptoms, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider to determine if a test is warranted or if your symptoms may be caused by something else.

Allergy testing is helpful for discovering what’s causing your symptoms so your healthcare provider can create an optimal treatment plan that determines what precautions to take and how to decrease your exposure to certain allergic triggers.

 


1 out of every 3 people suffer
from

some form of allergy1 and up to 80% are 

allergic to more than one substance.2

How Does Allergy Testing Work?

Allergy testing is administered in several different forms, including blood tests, skin-prick tests, food challenge tests, and allergy provocation tests. Together with your healthcare provider, you can decide which test is best for you. Once you receive an allergy test, the results are reviewed alongside your medical history to help establish an accurate diagnosis. 

 

Allergy Testing Options


Click on link below to learn the pros and cons of each test, or explore our allergy testing frequently asked questions.

Allergy Blood Test

Allergy Blood Test

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.
 

Allergy blood testing process icon

How it Works

  1. A small sample of blood is drawn.
  2. The blood is sent to a laboratory for analysis. 
  3. 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. 

Skin-Prick Allergy Test3

In a skin-prick test (SPT), your skin is directly exposed to suspected allergens and observed for signs of a 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
 

Skin-prick allergy testing process icon

How it Works

  1. The upper layer of your skin is punctured or scratched to introduce a very small amount of a suspected allergen to your immune system. 
  2. A reaction similar to a mosquito bite may appear, usually within 20 minutes, indicating the presence of specific IgE for (sensitization to) this allergen.

 

Food Allergy Challenge Test3,5

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. 
 

Food challenge allergy test process icon

How it Works

  1. A person is fed a small portion of a food that they have a suspected allergy to.
  2. They are monitored closely for any clinical symptoms, usually in a medical (clinic or hospital) setting. 
  3. If there is no reaction, the patient consumes a increasingly larger portions of the food, up to a serving size. If a reaction occurs, the test stops.

 

PROVOCATION Test6

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. 
 

Provocation allergy test process icon

How it Works

  1. A person is exposed to small, but increasing quantities, of their suspected allergen.
  2. They are monitored closely for any clinical symptoms. 
  3. 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.

ALLERGY TESTING FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How does an allergy blood test compare to a skin-prick test?

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.

How do I prepare for allergy testing?

To prepare for testing, your healthcare provider might ask you a series of questions regarding your lifestyle and family history, as well as the symptoms you are experiencing and how you’ve been managing them. You’ll want to give your healthcare provider a full record of your symptoms. 

One way to do this is through filling out My Symptom Profile. This is an interactive tool that guides a user through four simple questions to identify the symptoms they are experiencing, if these symptoms get worse at certain times (like during an illness or after eating), if these symptoms are more noticeable in certain places (like at school or outdoors), and how long these symptoms have occurred. The symptom profile tool will then create a summary that can easily be taken to an appointment with a healthcare provider. They’ll use this information, as well as your medical history, to find a testing option that’s just right.

What can allergy testing find?

An allergy blood test can help determine if you are allergic to hundreds of possible allergens, such as animals, dust mites, insects, mold, pollen, and various foods.

Is allergy testing painful?

Blood tests and skin-picks test are virtually painless although you may feel a quick prick of the skin. Positive reactions to skin-prick tests can also cause itchy, red bumps but these usually subside in just a few short minutes or hours.

Do certain medications interfere with allergy testing?

Yes, several medications can affect skin testing responses.7 Antihistamines are the drugs most commonly associated with suppression of the skin test response.8 Be sure to ask your healthcare provider about the medications you should avoid taking before testing.

How long does it take to get results from an allergy test?

For an allergy blood test, the results are returned a few days later for your healthcare provider to interpret. For a skin-prick test, a reaction may appear usually within 20 minutes.

 

FIND ANSWERS

Knowing if you’re allergic and what you’re allergic to can help you, or a loved one, avoid or minimize 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. 

References
  1. Pawankar R, Holgate S, Canonica G, at el. WAO, White Book on Allergy. 2011;12.
  2. Ciprandi G, Alesina R, Ariano R, et al. Characteristics of patients with allergic polysensitization: POLISMAIL study. Eur Ann Allergy Clin Immunol. 2008;40(3)77-83.
  3. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. How Do Doctors Diagnose Allergies. http://www.aafa.org/page/allergy-diagnosis.aspx. Accessed June 2019.
  4. Kwong KYC, Jean T, Redjal N (2014) Variability in Measurement of Allergen Skin Testing Results among Allergy-Immunology Specialists. J Allergy Ther. 5:60. doi:10.4172/2155-6121.1000160
  5. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. What do patients and caregivers need to know about oral food challenges. https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/oral-food-challenge. Accessed June 2019. 
  6. Niederberger V, Eckl-Dorna J, Pauli G. Recombinant allergy-based provocation testing. Methods. 2014;66(1):96-105. 
  7.  Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Will my medication affect the results of my skin test? https://acaai.org/resources/connect/ask-allergist/will-my-medication-affect-results-my-skin-test. Accessed March 2019.