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Uncover Your Triggers With Allergy Testing: 5 Common Questions Answered

Allergies can affect everyone differently, including the symptoms you have and the treatments that work. Mili Shum, MD, an allergist at University of Utah Health, helps patients suffering with asthma and allergy symptoms every day, often through the process of allergy testing.

“Allergy testing is a great way to safely identify allergens that are making you uncomfortable or even endangering your life,” Shum says. “If you don’t know what’s causing your allergy or asthma symptoms, an allergy test can help us pinpoint the cause and develop a plan to help you manage those symptoms moving forward.”

If you’re not sure about allergy testing, here are some commonly asked questions that may help guide you in deciding whether or not to seek out an allergist’s help.

1. When should I consider allergy testing?

You may want to consider allergy testing if you are experiencing allergy or asthma symptoms that are unexplained, or that you cannot control with antihistamines or over-the-counter allergy medications. Allergy testing can identify allergens that will help you and your allergist come up with an effective treatment plan.

2. What are the types of allergy tests?

The type of allergy testing depends on the type of reaction that the patient is experiencing. These testing methods include:

  • Skin Prick: Skin prick testing is the most common test used to evaluate environmental, food, drug, and venom allergies. Small amounts of allergens are placed just barely into the surface of the skin through the use of small needles, which are then monitored for an immediate reaction. This test may be done on the upper back or forearm. Many common allergens can be tested at once.
  • Intradermal Skin: Intradermal skin testing involves a small amount of allergen being carefully injected just barely into the skin of your arm. It is then monitored for up to 15 minutes for any immediate reactions. This may be recommended by your allergist for further investigation following a skin prick test.
  • Patch: Patch testing is performed for contact dermatitis or reactions to products and some drugs. It can detect delayed reactions, which may take several days to develop. Allergens are applied to patches that are placed on top of your skin and are worn for 48 hours. When taken off, irritated skin at the site of the patch indicates a possible allergy.

3. How long does allergy testing take?

The length of time depends on the type of allergen, the number of allergens, and the method of testing. For skin prick and intradermal skin testing, results are monitored and recorded after 15 minutes, while patch testing takes at least 48 hours to develop results. Your allergist will also need to review the results and possibly schedule you for a follow-up appointment.

4. Does allergy testing hurt?

Allergy testing does not hurt, but it can cause some minor irritation.

5. Does allergy testing cause anaphylaxis?

For the vast majority of people, the amount of allergen applied to your skin is too small to cause a severe allergic reaction. Patients who undergo the skin prick or intradermal skin testing are monitored during the entirety of the test.

If you or your child are experiencing allergy symptoms, consider allergy testing. It is a safe and effective way to help your allergist diagnose an allergy and can be the first step in helping you get on a treatment plan that will improve your symptoms and quality of life.