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Allergy Testing

Allergy Testing

If you have an allergy, your immune system overreacts to a substance you’ve come in contact with, such as an environmental allergen (trees, pollens, molds), a chemical, a medication taken, or food eaten or touched.

Your immune system controls how your body defends itself. For instance, if you have an allergy to pollen, your immune system identifies pollen as an invader, or “allergen”. Your immune system overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, such as histamine, causing an allergic reaction. These reactions can range from hives,  sneezing and sniffling, and stomach discomfort, to even a life-threatening response called anaphylaxis.

So how can you be sure which allergens are responsible for your symptoms? Your doctor may recommend allergy tests, and combined with a physical examination and medical history, they can give you precise information about what you are, as well as what you are not, allergic to.  Ruling out certain allergens can sometimes be just as relevant as identifying reactive allergens.  For instance, if somebody in your family has allergy symptoms and you suspect it might be a reaction to the family pet, allergy testing may be able to rule out pet dander, and identify a different allergen, such as dust mites, instead.

Many people with untreated allergy symptoms aren’t aware of how much better they will feel once their symptoms are properly diagnosed and managed by their doctor.



Who should be allergy tested?

Different allergens bother different people, so your allergist will determine which test is the best for you. Regardless of the type of test, an allergist will first perform a physical examination and ask questions about your symptoms to determine if allergy testing is warranted.  Testing done by an allergist is generally safe and effective for adults and children of all ages. The allergen extracts or vaccines used in allergy tests performed by allergists meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.

Indications for evaluation of allergies:

  • Sinus & Respiratory: itchy eyes, nose or throat; nasal congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, chest congestion, cough or wheezing
  • Skin:hives, itchiness or eczema
  • Abdominal: vomiting or cramping and diarrhea consistently after eating certain foods
  • Severe reactions to stinging insect stings (other than swelling at the site of the sting)
  • Anaphylaxis (pronounced an-a-fi-LAK-sis): a serious allergic reaction that affects many parts of the body at the same time

It is important that allergy testing is directed by a healthcare professional with sufficient allergy/immunology training and prompted by your medical history.

Why get tested?

  • Allergy testing is a precise way to tell which, if any, allergens are contributing to your allergy symptoms.
  • Once you know exactly what you are allergic to, you and your doctor will be able to develop a treatment plan to reduce or eliminate your allergy symptoms.


How are allergies tested?

Westside Head & Neck uses a technique called Skin Prick testing which is the most common form of testing, and is relatively painless. A very small amount of certain allergens is put into your skin by making a small indentation or “prick” on the surface of your skin.

If you have allergies, just a little swelling that looks and feels like a mosquito bite will occur where the allergen(s) to which you are allergic was introduced. If you are allergic to ragweed pollen but not to cats, only the ragweed allergen will cause a little swelling or itching. The spot where the cat allergen was applied will remain normal.

You don’t have to wait long to find out what is triggering your allergies. Reactions occur within about 20 minutes. And you generally won’t have any other symptoms besides the small hives where the tests were done, which go away within 30 minutes.allergy-testing-5

If your prick skin tests are negative but your physician still suspects you might have allergies, more sensitive “intradermal” tests may be used in which a small amount of allergen is injected within the skin.

Skin tests are best performed in an allergist’s office to assure the test results are read properly and to minimize the risk of rare side effects.

There are occasions when the doctor will recommend the patient be allergy tested by testing the patient’s blood rather then using the skin prick method.  Since the patients blood is drawn & sent to the lab, results are not available as rapidly as with skin tests. IgE blood tests are generally used when skin tests might be unsafe or won’t work, such as if you are taking certain medications, or have a skin condition that may interfere with skin testing.


Before Allergy Testing