An allergy causes your body to overreact to a foreign substance. Coming into contact with this substance through touch, ingestion, or inhalation causes your immune system to respond, sometimes viscously. An allergy can cause coughing, hives, itchy eyes, a runny nose, sore throat, and sneezing or an even more severe reaction.
There is no cure for allergies, but there are treatments available to manage your symptoms. Diagnosing allergies begins with a series of tests from your doctor. There are several types of skin and allergy tests that a doctor can perform.
At the Adult and Children Allergy Asthma Center, we rely most often on percutaneous skin testing. What is percutaneous skin testing and how can it lead to a treatment that could help you live more comfortably with your allergies?
What Are the Types of Allergy Skin Testing?
Allergy skin testing measures your body’s response to an allergen in a measured, safe way. If you react to the allergen, that means you’re allergic to it.
There are several different ways to test for allergies today, including:
- Percutaneous testing, or an allergy skin prick, scratches the skin’s surface and applies potential allergens to gauge your response
- Blood (IgE) testing requires a blood sample to be sent to the lab to look for IgE antibodies
- Challenge tests, where you carefully ingest a small portion of the suspected allergen under a doctor’s close supervision
- Intradermal skin testing places a small amount of the potential allergen just under the skin
- Patch tests looks for the cause of contact dermatitis by placing a few drops of the allergen on your skin
Percutaneous skin testing has long been considered the preferred method for reliable, effective allergy testing. In fact, it’s currently the “gold standard” to find out exactly what you’re allergic to. This type of test yields a highly reliable result that serves as a basis for your allergy treatment plan. This next section will talk about how we use percutaneous skin testing and how it can help you with your allergies.
What Is Percutaneous Skin Testing and Why Would I Need It?
Percutaneous skin testing, which is commonly called the allergy skin prick scratch test, can be done in your allergist’s office. During a percutaneous skin test, the doctor looks for allergic reactions to specific substances by scratching the skin with needles. It’s a quick 15- to 30-minute test that can help ease your allergy suffering for a lifetime.
A percutaneous skin test helps your doctor understand what’s causing your allergy symptoms. The procedure will help determine the best allergy treatment plan possible to improve the quality of your life by lessening your symptoms. An allergy skin prick scratch test is commonly used to diagnose:
- Allergy-related asthma
- Bee venom allergies
- Dermatitis (eczema)
- Food allergies
- Hay fever
- Penicillin allergies
While there are other types of allergy testing available, skin tests have been done for decades and are both highly effective and safe.
What’s It Really Like to Have an Allergy Skin Test?
There are several steps you’ll experience when having an allergy skin prick scratch test. The procedure will be done in your allergist’s office. You’ll start with a review of your medical history and a brief physical exam. The doctor will carefully confirm that the percutaneous skin test is the appropriate procedure for your situation.
During the test, your medical provider will place 10 to 50 potential allergens on your skin. The area will be lightly scratched with thin needles to prick the skin of your arm or back, allowing the allergens to penetrate the skin. You’ll be observed closely for about 15-minutes and then your clinical team will check the skin for a reaction.
What your doctor is looking for are minor skin reactions in the form of redness or raised round spots known as wheals. That shows us that you’re allergic to the allergen we exposed you to, allowing us to treat the cause of the condition.
The results of the allergy test are:
- Negative if we don’t see a skin reaction, which means you’re not allergic to that substance
- Positive if we do see a skin reaction, which means the doctor can prescribe a potential treatment
There is no discomfort during this test and it’s perfectly safe, but also highly effective. You’ll have the results of the percutaneous skin test that day. You’ll go home with a treatment plan and the chance of a more comfortable life minus the allergy symptoms that have been causing you grief.
What Happens If I Have an Allergy?
Diagnosing the allergy is step one. Step two is receiving a treatment plan for alleviating the symptoms of the allergy that’s been troubling you. Depending on the allergy, your clinical team may recommend a few ways to cope with your symptoms:
- Avoid the allergen, whether it’s food-related, latex, or some other substance
- Get allergy shots, a treatment called immunotherapy to decrease the body’s immune response to an allergen such as pet dander, for example
- Take allergy medications like antihistamines which can help with hay fever or other environmental allergens
Your medical provider may also recommend a medical alert card or jewelry to alert others if you have a severe allergy. Some people have serious anaphylactic responses to food such as peanuts or bee stings or even certain medications. Anaphylaxis is a type of shock that is a potentially life-threatening allergic response that can happen within minutes of exposure. Experiencing anaphylaxis is serious and requires an epinephrine injection and a trip to the ER. In addition to carrying a medical alert card, your doctor may even recommend keeping an EpiPen (epinephrine injection) near you — just in case.
The Adult and Children Allergy Asthma Center can diagnose and treat your allergies with the most effective testing, medications, and lifestyle changes to help improve the quality of your life. You can live a full, comfortable life with allergies and we’re here to help you get there.