How allergy testing works

The most important step in addressing your allergies is knowing which specific allergens cause your symptoms and how strong of a reaction you have. We begin with skin prick testing, which involves placing a small amount of allergens on the surface of your skin with a plastic testing device. If these tests are negative, we may also perform a more sensitive test called intradermal testing, which involves injecting a small amount of allergen just under the top layer of the skin.

How is the test interpreted? If you are allergic to a specific allergen, you will experience a bit of swelling where the skin test was placed. This reaction looks and feels like a mosquito bite, and the size shows how sensitive you are to the allergen. It is exceedingly rare for skin testing to cause symptoms anywhere other than at the site of the test. Reactions usually occur within 10 to 15 minutes and go away within 30 to 90 minutes.

Is allergy testing always the answer?

A true allergy is caused by a chemical in the body called histamine, which is released during an allergic reaction. Histamine causes symptoms such as itching, redness, swelling, and wheezing, and does not cause other symptoms such as headache or burning. Also, people allergic to anything in their environment or diet will react to it every time they are exposed, not just some of the time. Therefore, the first part of an allergy evaluation is to take a detailed history of your symptoms. We will determine whether they represent true allergy or some other problem or a different type of intolerance reaction. While it is true that allergies can be so severe that antihistamines don’t help much, it is important to keep in mind that a major reason why antihistamines might not work well for you is that allergy is not the problem.

Like every other type of healthcare testing, allergy tests can be costly, and we pride ourselves on making good use of every dollar you spend on your healthcare. Using over 30 years of experience, we’ll carefully consider your history of symptoms and may recommend against allergy testing if it is not likely to be helpful. On the other hand, if allergy is less likely but still possible, we may recommend other treatments first, and test at a later date if needed. In any case, we use shared decision making to help you consider your options and determine together if allergy testing is right for you.