Over the years, our bodies can do some pretty weird things. I have a friend who had zero food allergies until after giving birth. Now she is allergic to lot of raw fruits, almonds, and even poppy seeds.
The scary part, though, is that she used to eat all of these things with no problem. Which means she lives in fear that one day, she will eat something like usual and end up having a really scary allergic reaction.
My husband has struggled with allergies for years! We have asked many times for him to be tested, but sadly, it just didn’t seem to happen. Now that he is retired from the Army, we pushed for him to get tested again and got him in.
My youngest child also has had some allergy issues. Allergies are something that will affect all ages. He had rash like symptoms that appeared on his chin that just wouldn’t heal. He had various other skin issues that we felt might be linked to allergies. Multiple times a year, he would get the croup well past the age kids generally got the croup.
It is important to note that many people think of food when thinking of allergies, but it is not just foods that can cause issues. Millions of people suffer from airborne allergies to all kinds of things that can cause issues ranging from itching and hives to asthma and anaphylactic shock.
In short, allergies are very serious business and affect more than 50 million people in the U.S. alone. Asthma kills more than 250,000 people each year. And then when you think about the deadly reactions people have to foods, it becomes even more scary (especially for parents). It can be difficult knowing whether you or your child is allergic to something BEFORE an allergic reaction takes place.
There is one solution, though – taking an allergy skin prick test.
What is an allergy skin test?
Allergy skin tests are a proven method for determining which allergens you are affected by. This includes food allergens (nuts, fruits, soy, seafood, etc.), airborne allergens (pollen and pet dander), and contact allergens (poison oak, ivy and sumac).
Allergy skin tests expose you to small amounts of specific allergens and then record the reaction. This helps you learn whether or not you are allergic to those allergens. By identifying your allergens, you can take precautionary measures to avoid them. There are four popular types of allergy skin tests:
Prick/Puncture Skin Test
The prick/puncture test (also known as a scratch test) is the easiest and quickest allergy skin test available. First, your allergist and/or nurse will clean your skin with an alcohol pad. They will then mark and label the test area of your skin and place a small, dilute amount of the suspected allergens on each area. After this has been done, they will scratch or prick your skin lightly to allow the allergen in.
Although this sounds like it might be painful, don’t worry; you won’t bleed or anything. After about 15 minutes, the allergist will observe your skin again for signs of an allergic reaction, such as itchiness, redness, swelling, rashes, etc. They also check to see how big of a reaction your skin has as this is an indicator of the level of sensitivity to the allergen.
Sometimes, the prick test results are inconclusive. In those cases, the allergist may request that you be given an intradermal skin test.
Intradermal Skin Test
Whereas the prick test only introduced the allergen onto the surface of your skin, the intradermal skin test (as you may have guessed from its name) involves injecting the allergen into the dermis layer of your skin with a thin needle. Again, the allergist will observe your skin after approximately 15 minutes of exposure for any signs of an allergic reaction.
Another option is the patch test. With this test, adhesive patches with suspected allergens are applied to your skin. You then go back to the doctor after 48, 72, and 96 hours to observe any reactions.
When my youngest had his testing done, he was referred out for a blood test. He had tested positive for Soy and Peanuts and they wanted to verify for sure. In the end, he wasn’t allergic to peanuts, but is allergic to soy.
What to do BEFORE an allergy skin test
Your allergist will likely give you instructions on what to do (and not do) before the skin test. Follow those instructions closely. For example, you may be directed to stop taking (or administering, if it’s your child taking the test) certain medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. One type of medication that should be paused is antihistamines.
You’ll likely be told to stop taking/administering these 3-7 days before the skin test. If they do not provide you with directions, I would be sure to ask for clarification or switch to a different allergist who does provide directions.
Let your allergist and the nurses know about all medications that are being taken – whether they are prescription or over the counter. It also doesn’t hurt to mention any vitamins or supplements.
What to expect after an allergy skin test
After a skin allergy test, you may experience allergic reactions in the form of itching, redness, swelling, and bumps. These symptoms should go away after a few days, though steroid cream may be recommended to help the healing process. When my youngest had his test, his was so irritated they sprayed him with steroids right in the Dr office and also gave him medication.
Sometimes a more significant and severe allergic reaction can take place, which is why the in-office skin tests are preferable. It’s always better to have severe allergic reaction when trained professionals are on-hand to administer potentially life-saving treatment.
If you happen to start experiencing severe reactions after you leave, be sure to call your doctor or 911 right away. The skin and allergy clinic we attend requests my son and husband to sit in the waiting area for a minimum of 30 minutes in case of a severe reaction even now that testing is completed, just for their regular weekly shots.
Once you’ve received the results of the skin allergy test, you can work with your doctor to create a plan of action. This may be as simple as avoiding the allergens or could involve a prescription for medication to alleviate the symptoms. You may also be prescribed an epi-pen device if the reaction is one that could be life threatening and avoiding the allergen isn’t 100% possible. Better safe than sorry!
Why you should see a specialist
While it may seem common sense to see your primary care physician (or the cheapest person available if you don’t have insurance that covers visits to an allergist), it’s recommended that you make an appointment with a trained allergist. They will be best able to properly administer the skin test, assess the test results, and come up with an effective plan of action.
I hope that this has cleared up any confusion you may have about allergy skin tests. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below and I can answer them to the best of my ability OR refer you somewhere else for more info.