Allergies affect a large portion of the population, and a lot of people take for granted that they can just assume these are seasonal allergies. Often, people get antihistamines and decongestants over the counter to help manage symptoms of allergies, even including food allergies. But what if that allergy could be life threatening, or if there was a better means of treating it so that quality of life could be further improved?
Going to the doctor may seem like overkill when it comes to allergies, but especially those who suffer severe reactions in some way should take the time to seek out a doctor’s recommendations and treatment options. Doctors have multiple ways of diagnosing allergies, and this leads to a more precise idea of what exactly could be causing the symptoms experienced by the patient. This is especially important for children, who aren’t as able to express what they are feeling and need some form of treatment.
There are four common types of tests for allergies, depending on the symptoms and predicted type of allergy expressed.
1 – Skin prick tests
The most common and easiest way to test for certain types of allergies is with a skin prick test. This may also be referred to as a skin test or scratch test. It’s the least invasive and easiest to perform, especially when testing for seasonal allergies, such as an allergy to pollen of some kind. It’s also used to diagnose certain types of food allergies without other extensive testing methods that can take time to be conclusive.
- A doctor or nurse will expose the skin to a very minute amount of a particular allergen to be tested. This could be a pollen, type of food, or other element.
- Then, the skin is pricked or scratched in the center of the allergen exposure, only on the outer layer. Allowing an allergen that creates a reaction to go deeper could lead to triggering a more serious allergic response.
- Over the course of a few minutes, if there is an allergic reaction to the particular substance in question, the skin around the prick or scratch will start to swell and turn red, looking a lot like a mosquito bite. This reaction usually only takes about fifteen minutes, and if there is no reaction, the allergy test is negative.
This form of testing is especially useful for children, who are impatient and not particularly fond of needles.
2 – Blood tests
In some cases, a skin test can’t be done. For example, patients with psoriasis and eczema are not prime candidates for skin tests, since this can exacerbate the already difficult skin condition. However, there are other methods of testing for allergies, and the next most common method is with blood tests.
- A patient visits the doctor, and blood is drawn into one or several tubes, depending on what allergens are to be tested.
- Once the blood is drawn, the appointment ends, and the blood is sent to a lab for testing against particular agents for reactions.
- Results usually take several days to a couple of weeks, but by the end of the testing, there should be conclusive results regarding a potential allergen and reaction in the patient.
Blood tests are nice because they require no real effort on the part of the patient, other than to take a few minutes at the lab for a blood draw. They can also be more extensive, testing more agents than a skin prick test, which will likely only be done to test a few potential allergens at a time.
3 – Elimination test
If the doctor suspects the patient suffers from a food allergy, an elimination test may be the best course of action to make a clear determination.
- Any foods that may be causing the allergy, or that are suspected of causing a reaction, will be eliminated from the patient’s diet for at least two weeks and, ideally, four weeks.
- If the symptoms have disappeared, the food or foods should be introduced into the patient’s diet one at a time, with several days in between, to determine if symptoms return with the introduction of the food.
- Upon the symptoms returning, it is likely that the most recently introduced food is the culprit.
While this sort of test takes time, it can also decipher multiple food allergies and their severity so that eating healthy and finding the right diet is easier to manage. Especially the practice of not eating a certain type of food that could cause an allergic reaction can teach the patient more about eating without that particular substance.
4 – The food challenge
In some cases, a single particular food may be suspected of causing the allergic reaction, and a swift result can be achieved through an oral food challenge. This is performed in a doctor’s office under careful supervision, since the key is to create and measure an allergic response.
- The patient is given a small amount of the potentially allergy-inducing food in the doctor’s office to eat.
- If there is no reaction, the amount of food is increased progressively, awaiting a reaction.
- If a reaction occurs, the time it took and the amount of the food it took to create the reaction is considered in order to determine if treatment is required or if it’s necessary to cut out that food from the patient’s diet.
- If there is no reaction, the results are ruled as negative, and the patient can continue eating that particular food.
Diagnosing allergies in general is fairly easy, since symptoms are pretty straightforward, especially with seasonal allergies or food allergies. However, determining the allergen behind the allergic response is another thing entirely. Doctors have several ways of determining what causes symptoms in a patient, and this can make a world of difference for those suffering from allergies, especially if the patient has asthma or experiences severe reactions. Once the culprit is identified, ways to avoid contact and treatment options can be explored so that life returns to a normal, happy status.