What to Expect from an Allergy Test

Our bodies have built-in mechanisms to keep us safe from all the harmful bacteria and viruses that constantly bombard us as we go about our daily lives. Harmful substances called antigens, such as germs, trigger an immune response when our bodies’ security systems detect an invasion. If you have allergies, your body will sound the alarm at seemingly harmless, everyday substances. These can include pet dander, pollen, certain foods and bees.

An allergic reaction occurs when the body responds to these alleged threats, and its effects can range from mild to serious. You might experience cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, congestion and watery eyes, or your reaction may be more severe with swelling, hives and even anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock can be fatal and requires immediate treatment with epinephrine.

If you have been suffering from symptoms like these and have not figured out the specific cause, a simple allergy test may be the next logical step. Tests done to detect allergies are fairly straightforward, with almost instant results in most cases.

Skin Test
The most common allergy test is the skin prick test, where a series of allergens are placed on the skin and rubbed in. If the skin reacts to a particular substance, you will know at least one of the causes of your allergies. Often, multiple allergies are discovered during these tests. Since your reaction or lack thereof determines the results, you can know the answer within about 15 minutes.

Skin allergy tests take place in a doctor’s office and take about 30 minutes to complete. This type of test is safe, effective and approved for use on young children and even infants. The risk of side effects is minimal, and since the doctor is there to monitor the test, counteractive measures can be immediately taken.

Blood Test
Some patients have conditions that prevent them from taking the typical skin allergy test. These include skin conditions that would interfere with the test or be exacerbated by the allergens, certain medications, and people with heart problems. In those cases, the doctor will order a blood test to check for allergies.

The blood test most doctors use is the enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which binds the potential allergen to antibodies, then checks the level of reaction by introducing a developer that changes the color. In a person with a high immune response to an allergen, the color will be darker, indicating a positive result.

Blood testing for allergies is more costly and the results much slower than the typical skin prick test, so this test is usually reserved for cases when the skin test will not work or does not respond as expected. There is no risk of allergic reaction since the allergen never interacts with the blood while it is in the body. Results from this test typically take 7-10 days to be available.

If you suffer from allergy symptoms, an allergy test can be the next step on a path toward relief and return to a normal, symptom-free life. Knowing your allergies will help you avoid them, begin appropriate treatment or preventive measures, and begin to enjoy the life you lived before allergies took over.

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