If your family doctor thinks you might have an allergy, he or she will probably refer you to an allergist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies) for further testing.
Here's what to expect.
An allergist will ask questions, such as:
The allergist will probably also do tests. Skin tests are the most common type of testing used to diagnose allergies.
In a typical skin test, a doctor or nurse will place a tiny bit of an allergen (such as pollen or food) on the skin, then make a small scratch or prick on the skin. Allergists usually do skin tests on a person's forearm or back. The allergist then waits 15 minutes or so to see if reddish, raised spots (called wheals) form, indicating an allergy.
A few doctors may do a similar test, called an intradermal test, under the surface of the skin. This type of test is usually done to look for environmental allergies.
If the doctor thinks a person might be allergic to more than one thing — or if it's not clear what's triggering a person's allergy — the allergist will probably skin test for several different allergens at the same time.
Skin tests may itch for a while. The allergist might give you antihistamine or steroid cream after the test to lessen the itching.
Doctors use skin tests to diagnose environmental allergies. But it's different with food allergies. When a skin test shows up as positive with a certain food, that only means a person might be allergic to that food. In these cases, doctors may want to do additional testing.
To diagnose a food allergy for certain, an allergist may do a blood test in addition to skin testing. This involves taking a small sample of a person's blood and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. The lab checks the blood for IgE antibodies to specific foods. If there are enough IgE antibodies to a particular food in the blood, it means it's very likely that person has an allergy.
Doctors often use a combination of skin testing and blood testing to diagnose a food allergy. If both come up positive, there's no need for further testing.
If the results of the skin and blood tests are still unclear, though, an allergist might do something called a food challenge. During this test, the person is given gradually increasing amounts of the potential food allergen to eat while the doctor watches for symptoms.
Because food allergies can trigger serious reactions in people, this test can be risky. So it needs to be done in an allergist's office or hospital that has access to medications and specialists to control reactions like anaphylaxis. Doctors only occasionally use the food challenge to diagnose a person with a food allergy. Most of the time, this type of test is done to find out if someone has outgrown a known allergy.
If an allergist decides that a person has an allergy, he or she will recommend a course of action. Treatment depends on the allergy — for people with environmental allergies, this might mean the allergist prescribes medication or allergy shots. For a food or other allergy, the allergist will advise the patient on ways to avoid the allergen.
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
|Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network FAAN is a nonprofit organization devoted to educating the public about food allergies. Call: (800) 929-4040|
|Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network for Kids This website, operated by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, has separate sections for kids.|
|Allergies: Gillian's Story Gillian's had allergies for as long as she can remember. Find out how she's learned to deal.|
|My Friend Has a Food Allergy. How Can I Help? Although food allergies are more common than ever, people who have them may feel different or embarrassed. A good friend can really help.|
|Milk Allergy Milk is in all kinds of foods, even things like baked goods. So what should a person who's allergic to milk do?|
|Nut and Peanut Allergy Peanuts are one of the most common allergy-causing foods, and they often find their way into things you wouldn't imagine. Learn the facts on living with a nut or peanut allergy.|
|Food Allergies and Travel Taking precautions and carrying meds are just part of normal life for someone who has a food allergy. Here are some tips on how to make travel feel perfectly routine also.|
|Serious Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis) A person with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This reaction can seem scary, but the good news is it can be treated.|
|Food Allergies Doctors are diagnosing more and more people with food allergies. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with food allergies can make a big difference in preventing serious illness.|
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