Allergy symptoms result from the immune system reacting abnormally to a harmless
substance as though it were a dangerous invader. Allergies are not only a nuisance in and of themselves, but they can also contribute to many other chronic conditions, including sinusitis, nasal polyps, ear infections, Eustachian tube dysfunction, asthma, and eczema.
Allergy testing is recommended when:
1) It is uncertain whether allergies are a major factor in a patient's symptoms, or when it is uncertain whether allergies may be exacerbating another associated condition.
2) Allergies are suspected but a patient has not responded adequately to standard allergy treatments.
3) Information about offending allergens could help a patient avoid or minimize exposure to these substances.
4) Information about offending allergens is needed to help guide immunotherapy - a treatment that desensitizes the immune system and decreases the allergic response.
How is allergy testing performed?
Two general forms of allergy testing are available: skin testing and blood testing. In my practice, I generally recommend skin testing as the method of choice for inhaled allergens, unless there are specific reasons in a given patient not to do skin testing. This is because skin testing gives a more accurate depiction of a patient's allergy profile than blood testing.
During skin prick testing, a specialized plastic applicator is used to penetrate the very surface layer of skin and deliver a small amount of purified extract of allergen. Despite the name "skin prick," there is minimal discomfort involved, and this form of testing is well tolerated even in children. The testing itself is usually performed on the back. Our panel tests for 70 different environmental allergens that are active in this area of the country, including various types of grass, tree and weed pollens, molds, animal dander, and dust mites. After introducing the extracts, the patient is observed for a period of time. "Positive" reactions will create a wheel, or raised area, in the skin around the test site. This usually itches--like a mosquito bite--but settles down with some cream we will apply. The sizes of each wheel are recorded, then the physician discusses results with the patient to determine the best treatment plan.