Why It's Important And What You Can Learn
Should You Get An Allergy Test?
After my serious anaphylactic reaction to shrimp when I was a child, my parents took me to an allergist and had me tested for a full range of possible allergies. If you or your child has ever had hives or breathing problems after consuming certain foods, you should see an allergist before any more serious reactions occur. If you (or a family member) are waking up consistently with a runny or stuffy nose, with itchy or red eyes, or with a skin rash, you might be reacting to allergens lurking in your environment. Allergy testing can cut down on frequent trips to the family physician or the pharmacy, and it can eliminate the guesswork by honing in on the allergens responsible for your discomfort.
Statistics show that 15 to 20 percent of children will have an allergy at some point in their lives, and allergic symptoms can occur in children as young as 3 years old. Genetics play a factor in who has allergies, so if you or your spouse have ever had allergies, keep a close watch on your children as their odds of developing them increase. And keep in mind that they may not necessarily have the same sensitivities as you. Again, this is why an allergy test administered by a trained professional is important for anyone who has family history and is exhibiting allergic symptoms.
What Is The Purpose Of An Allergy Test?
It's difficult to find an unfamiliar destination without a road map. It's hard to hit a target unless you know where you are aiming. Likewise, it's hard to find long-term allergy relief without knowing what to change or eliminate. Allergists administer allergy tests so they can have a specific action plan to help you with your allergies. Such an action plan can involve lifestyle changes, allergy shots, medications and tools to control allergens in your environment.
Getting an allergy test may save you money. Before taking steps to remove dander from your child's life, make sure he or she is actually allergic to pets. While dust mite and pollen allergies are quite common, they may not be what are causing your allergies. Before you mite-proof your home, be sure that your symptoms aren't coming from mold in your home or workplace, or the former tenant's leftover cat dander. Once you know the allergens that you or your children are sensitive to, you can be a knowledgeable consumer about what will best improve the health of you and your family.
What Are The Methods Of Allergy Testing?
Allergy tests are administered in one of several ways. The most commonly used is the skin scratch test. In use for almost 100 years, this test involves scratching the skin's surface with a tiny amount of allergen to see if there is a reaction. Within about 15 minutes, the skin will become red and itchy, and a hive will form in the tested area if the person is allergic. The hives do not last long, and the small scratches typically do not draw any blood.
Intradermal tests are similar to scratch tests, but more invasive, as allergen is actually injected under the skin. Sometimes intradermal tests are given if scratch test results are negative.
Blood tests, also known as RAST (radioallergosorbent) tests, measure the amount of IgE antibody in the blood. The immune system produces IgE in response to a suspected allergen. Because this test method involves drawing and analyzing blood, it can be more expensive, and more time-consuming.
Some allergists and dermatologists use patch tests to discover substances that may be causing skin reactions like eczema or contact dermatitis. When this test is administered, metal discs are spread with a small amount of the suspected allergen and taped to the skin, usually for 48 hours. The skin is monitored for any sign of a reaction. Skin reactions can occur from nickel, topical medications or cosmetic ingredients.
There are other test methods that you may have heard of, such as kinesiology, cytotoxicity and the Rinkel method. However, these methods are not considered as reliable and are not generally accepted by the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology.
What Does An Allergy Test Feel Like?
I vividly recall my trip to the allergist's office to get my skin scratch test. I was a young child, and I remember it being a scary experience, even with my favorite purple My Little Pony toy to comfort me. I had to lie face down while tiny needle sticks were applied in a grid-like fashion all over my back. To my surprise, the scratches did not hurt at all, but they did cause my back to feel very itchy. I was of course not able to scratch the testing area so my mom had to fan my back to appease the itchy feeling. The experience lasted no more than 30 minutes. I had been a good girl and earned myself a milkshake, and Mom got a whole stack of information about my newly discovered allergies.
We found out that not only was I allergic to shellfish, I also had multiple other food allergies including milk (learn more about food allergies). Add to that my sensitivity to mold, dust mites, pets and pollen and, needless to say, we were overwhelmed. But, it was a great place to start us on the path to helping me feel better: I never would have known what to avoid had I not "endured" that allergy test.
Where Can You Get Tested?
There should be an allergist in your area who can administer an allergy test. To search for board-certified allergy specialists by region, click here. Many general and family practitioners have also added allergy testing as a service they offer. Ear, Nose and Throat doctors sometimes give allergy tests, since many people who have respiratory and sinus conditions also have allergic sensitivities.
Many physicians recommend immunotherapy (allergy shots). This well-established method of treatment works by injecting a tiny amount of the offending allergen so your body builds up immunity to that substance over time.
Your doctor may also recommend medications, either prescription or over-the-counter, to alleviate your allergic symptoms.
Physicians may also provide you with information on how to avoid allergens and recommend certain ways to control your environment. You know the old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That adage is certainly true for allergies. Better to prevent the allergy symptom from ever occurring through allergen avoidance than to control (or cure) them once they have begun.
National Allergy's online Learning Library or archived issues of the monthly educational newsletter will provide you with loads of information and avoidance tips for five of the most common allergens in the environment: pollen, pet dander, dust mite allergen, mold, and household dust (which may include all the others).
If you are just beginning the allergen avoidance battle, we recommend that you first allergy-proof your bedroom. Then, if needed, you can allergy-proof other areas of your home where you spend a lot of time.
Here are our recommendations for the best places to start:
|Zippered Mattress, Box Springs & Pillow Covers
Many people are allergic to dust mite allergens abundant in your bed. You may be one of them if you wake up with a stuffy head, sneezing, running nose and/or watery eyes. If allergy testing confirms this allergy, putting a mite-proof, zippered cover on your mattress, box springs and pillows will prevent you from breathing in this allergen all night long and can make a huge difference in how you feel in the morning and all day long.
|Room Air Purifiers
If allergy testing shows you are allergic to any airborne allergens - especially pollen, pet dander, mold spore or household dust - a room air purifier can remove most of these airborne particles from the air it filters. Running an air cleaner 24/7 in your bedroom will give you cleaner air to breathe while you sleep.
Carpet is another major source of allergens, and every time you walk across the room, you stir up particles. If you are unable (or unwilling) to replace carpet with hard surface flooring, using carpet treatments regularly can render these allergens harmless. For vacuuming after the treatment, we highly recommend a HEPA vacuum or special allergy vacuum bags. See Specials below -10% Off Carpet Treatments.
For more personal consultation about controlling environmental allergens, you can call one of our highly-trained experts at 1-800-522-1448. They can guide you through what physicians most recommend for different allergies.