If you have an allergy, your body is reacting to something you inhaled, touched or
ate. The substances that trigger an allergic reaction are called allergens. Reactions
to these allergens range from annoying to life-threatening. Many people with
untreated allergy symptoms aren't aware of how much better they can feel once
their symptoms are properly diagnosed and managed by an allergist.
What Are the Benefits of Allergy Testing?
Allergy tests, combined with the knowledge of your allergy specialist to interpret
them, can give precise information about what you are and are not allergic to.
For instance, if you wheeze when you are at home and don't know why, you don't
have to get rid of your cat if your allergy testing shows you are allergic to dust
mites but not cats. With this information, you and your allergist can develop a
treatment plan to manage or even get rid of your symptoms.
Should I Be Tested?
Testing done by an allergist is generally safe and effective for adults and children of
all ages. Symptoms which usually prompt the allergist to perform skin testing
- Respiratory: itchy eyes, nose or throat; nasal congestion, runny nose, watery
eyes, chest congestion, cough or wheezing
- Skin: hives, itchiness or atopic dermatitis
- Abdominal: cramping and diarrhea or constipation consistently after eating certain
- Severe reactions to stinging insect stings (other than swelling at the site of the
- Anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis): a serious allergic reaction that affects many parts
of the body at the same time
Most symptoms are caused by one or more of these allergens:
- Dust mites (tiny bugs you can't see) that live in your home
- Proteins from furry pets, which are found in their dander, saliva and urine (it's
actually not their hair)
- Molds in your home or in the air outside
- Tree, grass and weed pollen
- Cockroach body parts and droppings
More serious allergic reactions can be caused by:
- Venom from the stings of bees, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants and other stinging
- Certain foods
- Natural rubber latex
- Certain medications and drugs
This type of testing is the most common and is relatively painless. A very small
amount of certain allergens is put into your skin by making a small indentation or
allergy testing "prick" on the surface of your skin. If you have allergies, just a little swelling will
occur where the allergen(s) which you are allergic to was introduced. If you are
allergic to ragweed pollen but not to cats, only the ragweed allergen will cause a
little swelling or itching. The spot where the cat allergen was applied will remain
normal. You don't have to wait long to find out what is triggering your allergies.
Reactions occur within 10 to 15 minutes. You generally won't have any other
symptoms besides the small hives where the tests were done, which go away within
30 minutes. If your prick skin tests are negative but your physician still suspects
you might have allergies, more sensitive intradermal tests will be used in which a
small amount of allergen is injected within the skin. Skin tests are performed in an
In a challenge test, a very small amount of an allergen is inhaled or taken by
mouth. Challenges are done mostly with potential food or medication allergies, and
it is very important that they be supervised by an allergist.