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.
Additional Allergy Testing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The following are common questions about allergy testing.
Can you detect allergies through a blood test?
Yes. When you become allergic to an allergen, your body creates special antibodies to fight against it. These allergic antibodies are called IgE antibodies. IgE antibodies are formed in the bone marrow and travel in the bloodstream before being deposited in the skin and other tissues where they remain for weeks to months. IgE antibodies tell your cells to release histamine and other chemicals that cause the classic allergy symptoms when you are exposed to the allergen.
Although allergy skin tests are considered the gold standard for allergy testing, blood testing can also be used to measure IgE antibodies circulating in your bloodstream at the time the blood drawn. Like allergy skin tests, allergy blood tests typically screen for common allergies such as grasses, trees, weeds, dust, pet dander, and molds. Blood tests can also be helpful in diagnosing food allergies.
How do you get tested for allergies?
There are three main ways to get tested for allergies:
- Skin Tests – Skin tests are commonly used to identify many potential allergens, including airborne, food-related, and contact allergens. The three types of skin tests are: scratch/prick tests, intradermal tests and patch tests.
- Blood Tests – If you are not a candidate for an allergy skin test, your allergist may suggest a blood test. Your blood is drawn and tested in a laboratory for the presence of allergen-fighting (IgE) antibodies. This can be successful in detecting antibodies to major allergens. Results typically take up to one week to return.
- Elimination Diet – To detect which foods are causing an allergic reaction, your allergist may recommend an elimination diet. This involves removing certain foods from your diet and adding them back in later. Any reactions could help determine which foods are causing problems.
Are allergy tests painful?
The skin prick or scratch test and intradermal test may cause slight discomfort. If you are sensitive to any of the allergens being tested, your skin may itch where the allergen was placed.
How long do allergy tests take?
Not very long. The skin prick and intradermal tests are performed in the allergist’s office and take about 5 to 10 minutes to apply. After 15 to 20 minutes, your skin may start to show reactions to certain allergens such as foods, environmental allergens or insect venoms.
Patch tests are used to identify if a chemical may be the cause of delayed skin rashes. They involve two or three visits to your allergist. The patches contain various common allergens contained in daily use items and household products. The patches are applied and worn for about 48 hours and then removed.
Blood tests results may take up to a week to return from the laboratory.
How much do allergy shots cost?
Most insurance plans will cover the cost of immunotherapy preparation and administration of the shots. Some insurance plans may cover 100% of the costs, and others may require a copay or deductible. Coverage can vary based on your health insurance plan. Contact your insurance company to determine your level of benefits. As a service to our patients, we can contact your insurance company on your behalf to determine any out-of-pocket expenses before treatment begins.
What kind of doctor do you see for allergy testing?
A board-certified allergist is a highly trained physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma. They are specially trained to identify allergen triggers and treat allergy issues.
What foods are tested in allergy testing?
Common food allergies tested include:
- Cow’s milk
- Egg whites
- Sesame seeds
How do doctors find out what you are allergic to?
After conducting the allergy test, your allergist will watch for reactions or review the blood test results to determine your specific allergies. They can also offer treatment options and preventive techniques to help manage reactions or prevent them from occurring.
How do you treat an (non-life threatening) allergic reaction at home?
The first step is to avoid the allergen. But if an allergic reaction occurs, there are several ways to treat them at home:
- Antihistamines – Helps treat minor allergic reactions regardless of the cause. Antihistamines reduce the body’s production of histamine to ease watering eyes, sneezing, and skin reactions. They can come in oral pills, dissolvable tablets, nasal sprays, liquids, and eye drops.
- Anti-inflammatory Medication – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) can help temporarily reduce pain, swelling, and cramps due to allergic reactions.
- Saline Sinus Rinse – If your allergies cause sinus problems, it’s recommended to rinse your sinuses with saline to remove allergens and clear your airways.
- Skin Allergy Treatments – If a skin allergy occurs, you can apply corticosteroid creams or calamine lotion to reduce inflammation and itching. An ice pack wrapped in cloth applied in 10 to 15-minute intervals can also help reduce inflammation.
If a serious allergic reaction occurs, seek emergent care right away
Review your plan with your allergist every 6 months. If you are often in the yellow zone, be sure to take your medication right away and use your inhaler correctly. A higher dose may be needed to get your asthma under control.
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!