In just a little over a century, allergies have gone from being virtually unheard of to affecting over 50 million Americans in the present day. In fact, the word allergy wasn’t even invented until 1906.
WHAT IS AN ALLERGY?
Allergies occur when you are exposed to a substance that causes an abnormal immune system response in your body. That substance then becomes an allergen. Allergy testing has been developed to determine what allergens you are reacting to, so that you can receive effective treatment.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR INITIAL EVALUATION
Your physician will ascertain your medical history, determine what’s relevant, and evaluate your current symptoms. He or she will then complete a physical examination. Taking all of this information into account, your physician will then determine if you need allergy testing, and what type of testing is required.
CATEGORIES OF ALLERGY TESTING
Common tests include Allergy SkinTesting, Food Challenges, Medication Challenges, Aspirin Desensitization, Blood Tests, Patch Tests, and Spirometry.
- Allergy Skin Tests – These comprehensive tests can be used to evaluate you for food, medication, seasonal, and insect allergies, such as bee stings. Suspected allergens are placed on your skin, and the results are read15 minutes later. There are two different ways your allergist can administer the suspected allergens to your skin, either by pricking it or by intradermal administration, which is placed directly underneath the skin with a small needle.
- Food Challenges – This test is done to either confirm a food allergy or determine whether you can tolerate a food you may have been avoiding. Starting with a very small amount of the food in question, incremental doses are given with a period of observation in between. With each test, you will be under the strict supervision of your doctor in the event of an adverse reaction. This is why the testing is done in small, incremental doses.
- Medication Challenges – As with the food challenge testing, this test will confirm an allergy to a drug or whether you can tolerate a drug you have been avoiding. Small, incremental doses are given followed by close observation by your physician in case of an adverse reaction.
- Aspirin Desensitization – This test is done over the course of a few days. Small, incremental doses are given with the goal of enabling you to tolerate aspirin. This test would be conducted if you suffer from an aspirin-induced, chronic respiratory disease.
- Blood Tests – If you require more specific testing than a skin test can provide or a skin test is inappropriate for you, blood testing will be administered. If you have a skin rash that would interfere with reading skin test results, you are on certain medications that cannot be discontinued for the duration of a skin test, or you have been diagnosed with dermatographism, blood tests may be ordered. Dermatographism is commonly known as skin writing. These patients develop hive-like lesions from lightly scratching their skin.
- Patch Tests – If you have been diagnosed with contact dermatitis, this test will show what your triggers are. Patches are placed on your back for 48 hours, and they are read anywhere from two to ten days later.
- Spirometry – This a test to determine if your allergies have caused you to develop asthma. You will be instructed to inhale deeply and then exhale into a tube that measures your lung function.
There are many theories for the meteoric rise of allergy symptoms, including identifying industrialization as the root cause. In the interim, however, diagnosis and treatment has evolved to include the many different types of allergy testing we have available today.