How Does Allergy Testing Work?

a woman itching Allergies are a very common condition that affects up to 30% of people, causing a variety of annoying symptoms. If your doctor suspects that you have allergies, he or she may recommend allergy testing to determine what, if any, substances you’re allergic to.

In this blog, the board-certified ear, nose, and throat doctors with New York ENT explain how allergy testing is performed and how it can help patients.

What are allergies?

Allergies occur when your body’s immune system overreacts to something that’s usually harmless. In response to this perceived threat, your body produces antibodies that travel to cells and release chemicals that cause an allergic reaction.

What are their symptoms?

Symptoms can vary from person to person and also may depend on whether you’re allergic to something you touch, breathe in, or eat. Common symptoms associated with allergies include:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Itchy, runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • A rash or hives (raised red patches)
  • Feeling tired
  • Stomach cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea (associated with food allergies)
  • Anaphylaxis – a severe, life-threatening reaction that causes swelling in your mouth or throat and difficulty breathing.

What causes allergies?

Allergies are caused by your immune system mistakenly identifying certain substances as a threat. It’s not completely understood why this happens, but it causes your body to release chemicals that cause symptoms.

You may be allergic to just one substance, or more than one. Even if you’ve been exposed to a particular allergen many times before without having any problems, your body may suddenly identify it as a threat.

Substances that trigger an allergic reaction are called allergens and can include the following:

  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Dust mites – tiny insects that live in carpets, bedding, and upholstery
  • Mold
  • Insect stings
  • Foods – especially nuts, shellfish, milk, or eggs
  • Medication
  • Animal dander
  • Latex – found in gloves, medical devices, and condoms

What is involved with allergy testing?

This type of testing is performed by an allergy specialist to determine exactly what substances if any, you’re allergic to. Your doctor or a nurse will prick the surface of your back or forearm using a tiny drop of a suspected allergen. Many allergens can be tested at once, and the needles that are used are tiny and barely penetrate your skin’s surface, so it doesn’t hurt or bleed.

You’ll wait a few minutes, and then your skin will be checked for signs of an allergic reaction, such as a red, itchy bump.

Your doctor may also suggest additional testing if needed, such as a skin patch test or a skin injection test.

What are the treatment options for allergies?

Once testing reveals what substance or substances you’re allergic to, you’ll know what to avoid and your doctor can suggest treatments.

These can include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants
  • Nasal sprays
  • Prescription medication
  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots) – small amounts of an allergen that are injected in gradually increasing doses, enabling your body to develop a tolerance to them

If you’re experiencing symptoms that may be associated with allergies, make an appointment today with New York ENT. Our doctors have extensive experience providing effective allergy treatment and can conduct allergy testing if needed.

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