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Allergy Diagnosis and Testing

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People with allergy symptoms — such as the runny nose of allergic rhinitis — may at first suspect they have a cold, but then the "cold" lingers on. Testing for allergies is the best way to find out if a person is allergic.

Allergy Diagnosis by Skin tests

Allergists (doctors who specialize in allergic diseases) use skin tests to determine whether a person has IgE antibodies in the skin that react to a specific allergen. The allergist will use weakened extracts from allergens such as dust mites, pollens, or molds commonly found in the local area. The extract of each kind of allergen is injected under a person’s skin or is applied to a tiny scratch or puncture made on the arm or back.

Skin tests are one way of measuring the level of IgE antibody in a person. With a positive reaction, a small, raised, reddened area, called a wheal (hive), with a surrounding flush, called a flare, will appear at the test site. The size of the wheal can give the doctor an important diagnostic clue, but a positive reaction does not prove that a particular allergen is the cause of symptoms. Although such a reaction indicates that IgE antibody to a specific allergen is present, respiratory symptoms do not necessarily result.

Allergy Diagnosis by Blood tests

Skin testing is the most sensitive and least costly way to identify allergies. People with widespread skin conditions like eczema, however, should not be tested using this method.

There are other allergy diagnosis tests that use a blood sample to detect levels of IgE antibody to a particular allergen. One such blood test is called the radioallergosorbent test (RAST), which can be performed when eczema is present or if a person has taken medicines that interfere with skin testing.

Allergies: Did You Know

Health experts estimate that 35 million Americans suffer from upper respiratory tract symptoms that are allergic reactions to airborne allergens.

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