Should You Have an Allergy Skin Test?

Health, Home & Family
on May 27, 2012

During allergy skin tests, according to the Mayo Clinic, the skin "is exposed to suspected allergy-causing substances (allergens) and is then observed for signs of an allergic reaction." Before you submit to an allergy skin test, you may want to ask the following questions of your doctor.

What is the purpose? An allergy skin test can help your doctor formulate a treatment plan that consists of allergy avoidance, medications or allergy shots. Allergic conditions that are diagnosed by allergy skin tests include hay fever, allergic asthma, dermatitis, food allergies, penicillin allergies, bee allergies and latex allergies.

Under what circumstances would you not recommend an allergy skin test? Your doctor will likely advise against an allergy skin test if you've experienced a severe allergic reaction that even the small amount present in a skin test would cause harm. Other reasons for not recommending a skin test occur if you're taking medications that might interfere with the test or if your allergy involves a widespread skin reaction.

For what allergies are skin tests most reliable? Allergy skin tests are most reliable when diagnosing airborne allergies. Although food allergies can be detected, it often takes additional tests to fully diagnose them because of their complexities.

What are the risks associated with allergy skin tests? Slightly swollen, red, itchy bumps are the most common side effects with allergy skin tests. Sometimes they last for a day or two but usually disappear within a few hours. On rare occasions, a skin test can produce a severe reaction. For this reason, it is recommended the test be conducted where appropriate equipment and medication is present.

What is the most common type of skin test? Forty different substances can be tested with a skin prick test, sometimes called a puncture or scratch test. A skin prick test is ideal for detecting allergies to pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites and foods. This type of test is not painful and involves a shallow puncture of the skin.

Are there other types of skin tests? A skin injection test, which involves injecting a small amount of allergen extract just under the skin of your arm, is used to check for allergies to insect venom or penicillin. A patch test is used to test delayed reaction allergies. It involves wearing a patch on your arm or back for 48 hours. Patch tests are used to detect allergies to latex, medications, fragrances, preservatives and hair dyes.