Allergies and allergic reactions are your body’s immune system responding to something it thinks is attacking it.
When your immune system senses an allergen, such as pollen, it identifies the pollen as an “invader” and then your immune system mounts a response. This response is your immune system overreacting and producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (or IgE). These antibodies then cause cells throughout your body to release other chemicals, causing the allergic reaction many are familiar with. The only way to know for certain if you are allergic to something is through formal allergy testing.
Allergy testing is typically accomplished by either an allergy blood test or skin test.
Traditional allergic skin testing remains the most direct and comprehensive way to diagnose allergies and has distinct advantages over blood testing. Unlike the blood test, allergy skin test results return within minutes—and most importantly, while you are in the office. This allows the allergist to immediately formulate a personalized treatment plan the same day as your allergy test. In contrast, blood allergy test results may take up to two weeks to return and will require an additional appointment to review the results and discuss treatment option, which can delay treatment.
Skin testing also has the advantage of allowing the allergist to test for the all the local environmental allergens specific to our Northeast Florida region.
How Do We Perform Our Allergic Skin Testing?
There are two allergy skin test methods available to determine what you are allergic to. Both methods require a small amount of an allergen extract applied to the skin and then waiting to see if a local skin reaction develops.
Skin Prick Testing
With skin prick testing, the skin of the upper back or forearms is touched with a small toothpick-like medical device coated with a specific allergen. If your immune system recognizes a particular substance as a problem, it will form a small bump or hive in that area indicating that you possess allergic antibodies to that substance.
Intra-dermal Skin Testing
This method is typically reserved for adults and older children and is used when the skin prick test to environmental allergens is negative (nonreactive). It involves the application of allergens into a slightly deeper layer of skin. This test has the advantage of detecting allergic antibodies that were not detected by skin prick testing.
In both cases, the tests are looking to see if your skin has a reaction to the allergen. A reaction will typically appear within 15 to 20 minutes, and will resemble something like of a mosquito bite.
Are There Side Effects with an Allergy Skin Test?
First, you should feel comfortable that in the clear majority of people, allergy testing is very well tolerated. There are some side effects that you should be aware of. The most common reaction is minor itching, redness and localized swelling at the site of testing. These symptoms typically resolve within one-to-two hours.
Other side effects may include itching (of your eyes, nose, and throat), runny nose, hives, and in rare instances low blood pressure and shock. Again, these are rare situations and our staff is appropriately trained to help a patient with those types of reactions.
Allergy Treatment Options
Of course, avoidance of the culprit allergen is the most important treatment for allergies. Allergy medications are often used when avoidance of your allergen(s) is not possible or practical. The most effective long-term treatment for many people with allergies is allergy shots (also known as allergen immunotherapy). The goal of allergen immunotherapy is to retrain your immune system to become tolerant to your specific allergens and then stop reacting to them. The result is less allergic symptoms and decreased need for medications.
Although there is no cure for allergies, desensitization by allergen immunotherapy is the closest available thing to a cure. This type of therapy does not contain medicine, so it is well suited for individuals interested in seeking a natural remedy for allergies.
Immunotherapy is accomplished with administering small but increasing doses of allergens weekly until a final maintenance dose is achieved. This “build-up phase” typically lasts from six to eight months and is then followed by a maintenance dosing phase with injections given at two or four week intervals.
A primary goal of immunotherapy is to instill lasting tolerance long after the course of immunotherapy is completed. For most patients, a complete treatment course will last between three to five years.
If you need more information or would like to schedule an appointment for allergy testing with an allergist near you, you can visit us at one of our four convenient locations, please go to our contact page at JaxAllergy.com or call 904-730-4870 today!