Allergies are no fun, and they can keep you from enjoying your life to the fullest. You may not even realize exactly what you are allergic to, or that there are treatments available that can give you long-term relief from your allergies. At Asthma Allergy Center in Tigard, OR, our allergy specialists are experts in testing and treating allergies. It’s our job, and our pleasure, to get people like you back to enjoying the things in simple things in life, like smelling spring flowers and hugging your cat.
How Do Allergy Specialists Test For Allergies?
There are several ways that an allergy specialist can test you for particular allergies. These include the skin prick test and the food challenge test.
Allergy Test: Skin Prick
Most common allergies can be tested quickly and easily using the skin prick test. In fact, in one short 30-minute test, our allergy specialists can test you for up to 50 different allergic responses. We generally administer this simple test to adults on the forearm, and to children on their upper backs. It is a very quick and easy process.
How It Works
First, we will clean the testing area with alcohol. Then, we will mark where the drops of allergen will be placed by drawing small pen marks on the testing area. We then put After applying the allergen drops, we prick the surface of the skin with a lancet to allow the allergen to enter. You can hardly feel the skin pricking as the lancet points are so tiny.
Two of the small skin prick sites will be used for two different control substances: histamine and saline. The introduction of histamines will cause an allergic reaction in most people. This is the histamine that anti-histamine allergy medications are targetting. Testing with a histamine control sample allows us to establish that your dermis will react well to an irritating substance. If you do not react there to histamine, you likely won’t react to any allergens.
Using another control sample of saline allows our allergy specialists to tell if the other allergic reactions you have are reliable. This is because, opposite to histamine, most people will not react to saline. If you do react, it is probably because your skin has a high sensitivity. This could throw off the other test results which may appear to be reacting to allergens but really aren’t. This is known as a false positive.
Getting Your Results
After you have had the allergens applied to the testing site and they have been allowed to enter your epidermis, it will be necessary to wait about 15 minutes to see whether you react. A nurse will check for reactions on the tested area by looking for a raised, reddened area similar to a mosquito bite. Also like a mosquito bite, the area will probably itch. If you do react, the nurse will measure the size of the inflamed area and write down the results.
After all of the results have been recorded, the nurse will wash your skin free of the pen marks. Sometimes the raised bumps at the site of allergic reactions will disappear quickly, but they can also take up to 12 hours in some cases. The exception is if you have a particularly strong reaction to an allergen, which could cause the itchy area to remain for two to three days. If this occurs and the area remains itchy or uncomfortable, an antihistamine will reduce the symptoms.
Allergy Test: Food Challenge
Another type of allergy testing is an oral food challenge test. This test can provide highly accurate information about your allergies. Usually, an oral food test is used to test a suspected allergy and will involve particular foods you think you may be allergic to.
How It Works
Your allergy specialist will feed you carefully measured doses of a possible food allergen to test your reaction. In the beginning, the doses will be very small so as to ensure your safety and comfort if you have a severe allergy. After each dose, you will be observed closely by your doctor to see if any reaction is present. The doctor will continue to increase the food doses until you show an allergic response. As soon as this happens, the test will stop.
Commonly experienced symptoms in this test are mild and include minor hive breakouts and becoming warm or flushed. Because the doses used are so small to begin with, it is highly unlikely that you will experience a severe allergic response. If any of the allergic reactions you may experience d give you discomfort, the doctor will be ready with allergy medications to provide relief.
Food Allergy Results
If after increasingly large doses of a suspected allergen have been presented with no reaction, the allergen will be deemed safe. If you do react during the test, your doctor will help you understand how best to avoid the food allergen going forward. Some medications may also be prescribed by your doctor in order to best manage the allergy.
Testing for food allergies can be useful even if you already know you have a particular food allergy. This is because your sensitivity to an allergen can change over time, becoming more severe, or even disappearing altogether. It’s helpful to know just how allergic you are to particular foods.
What Exactly Will My Food Challenge Test Look Like?
Your doctor will present you with either a test food that you may be allergic to or a control food (placebo) that you should not react to. The use of a control food gives the doctor a chance to see what your baseline reaction to food is. This can then be compared to your reaction to possible allergen foods later.
Types of Food Allergy Tests
Medical tests can seem scary, and even when they are totally safe, they may cause some anxiety. When you are expecting to purposefully create a physical reaction, such as an allergic response, this can cause even more anxiety. Unfortunately, the observable effects of anxiety can mimic those of allergic reactions. Anxiety can also increase the symptoms of real allergic responses. Therefore it is important to create controls in order to keep testing as accurate as possible. There are three tests that have been created for testing food allergies. They are the “open food” test, the “single-blind” test, and the “double-blind” test.
Open Food Test
In this test, you and your doctor know that you are testing a possible allergen. Aside from one control used to establish your baseline physical response to food, placebos won’t be used. When your doctor isn’t worried about anxiety influencing false readings, this test is the most commonly used. In this test, you are given the smallest measured dose of a possible allergen and observed for reactions. Over the course of an hour, the doses will increase slightly until a set limit is reached. At this point, unless you react in the following three hours, it will be concluded that you are not allergic to that particular food.
This version of the food allergen test consists of one of you being “blind” to what you are consuming. Your doctor will know whether you are eating a possible allergen or a placebo, but you will not. The placebo, or control, and the test allergen will be given to you at sufficiently separate times so as to not overlap in your possible reactions. You won’t know which is which, so your anxiety should be about the same for both tests.
This means that any differences between the reactions to placebo and allergen are meaningful. Those divergences will be measured and recorded. To make this single-blind test work, you will have to be unaware of what allergen, or placebo, is being tested. This doesn’t mean that you must be blindfolded. It might mean eating a piece of bread to test for egg or milk. You should not be able to tell what is being tested by seeing the food.
This is the “gold standard” of scientific testing. It provides the most accurate and useful results when testing a hypothesis. The point of a double-blind test is to remove the possibility of the doctor accidentally giving away the knowledge of whether a food has an allergen or is a placebo. Imagine you are a doctor with an anxious patient and you have a slightly noticeable tension when serving one piece of food, but not another. The patient may respond to these “tells” and compromise the accuracy of the test readings.
In a double-blind, neither you nor your doctor knows which foods contain an allergen or a placebo. This is the best way to ensure that anxiety about a test is unable to affect the outcome of the results. If you are anxious about getting tested, make sure to talk to your doctor about it. They can also help reassure you by explaining the test methods in more detail.
Preparing For Your Test
No matter what type of test you will be taking, make sure to let your allergy specialist know about any medications, over-the-counter or prescription, that you are currently taking. Certain medications can affect how your body reacts to the allergens we will be testing and could cause the test results to be inaccurate. The allergy specialist may ask that you stop taking certain medications for up to 10 days before your test in order to get the most accurate results.
Talk to your doctor to determine whether you will need to stop any medications before your test. Antihistamines and tricyclic antidepressants are two types of medications that will commonly interfere with the testing of allergy reactions. There are also certain asthma medicines such as Xolair, and heartburn medications such as Cimetidine and Ranitidine, that will cause the test to fail.
So what happens after you get tested? Where do we go from there? The two main treatment options are allergy immunotherapy administered either through injections or an oral liquid or tablet. The treatment option that we recommend will depend on the type of allergies you have. Both methods work similarly to a vaccination. Your body’s natural immunity to an allergen is gradually built up by repeatedly exposing it to small, controlled amounts of the allergen.
Immunotherapy Injection Treatment
Environmental allergies such as allergies to animals, dust mites, and pollen, are best treated with allergy immunotherapy treatment. The treatment must be followed regularly, often involving visits to the doctor each month for a period of several years. Over time, this immunity will cause your natural allergic reaction to lessen until you no longer experience an allergic reaction to the allergen at all!
Immunotherapy Oral Treatment
Don’t worry if you don’t like to get shots. While the allergy injections are somewhat more effective, the orally administered liquid extracts work very well too. These work in the same way as the injections, but are delivered in a liquid form that slowly dissolves under your tongue. Oral immunotherapy treatment is a very convenient option as you can do it yourself in the comfort of your own home, rather than coming into the office for injections. We can also provide tablets you can take every day to decrease your sensitivity to grass allergies.
The most effective treatment for food allergies is oral immunotherapy. After being treated for a year, you can expect to see a drastic reduction in your allergic reactions to problem foods. After a while, you may even remove the allergic reaction completely. This is life-changing for many people who may have lived in fear of parties and other gatherings where unknown food is served.
Stop Sniffling and Start Living!
No one likes living with allergies, but they don’t have to be as disruptive to your life. There are ways to manage their effects and even make allergy symptoms disappear over time. Whether you are allergic to environmental or food allergens, allergy testing and immunotherapy can help you start living again! Visit us at Asthma Allergy Center in Tigard, OR so we can help you get back into the swing of living a life free of allergies!