For lots of people, allergy treatment is reactive. You get stuffed up, your eyes water, and then you go to the medicine cabinet for relief. But many doctors say that we’ve got it the wrong way around. Instead, we should be taking the medicine before we have symptoms. Call it allergy pretreatment.
“We always tell people to start taking medicine before the allergy season begins,” says Jonathan A. Bernstein MD, an allergist and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati. “People...
When you inhale a substance that you're allergic to, like ragweed, your body reacts. You’ll have symptoms like itchy eyes and runny nose.
Skin testing also triggers an allergic reaction, but only on the skin. The doctor will prick your skin with a tiny amount of an allergic trigger. It's safe and not very painful.
If you’re not allergic, nothing will happen. If you are, the area will swell and itch like a mosquito bite. That's how your doctor can tell what your triggers are.
Skin Test Types
There are two basic types of skin tests:
Standard skin test. The doctor places a tiny amount of the allergen on your skin, usually on your back or forearm, and then pricks or scratches the skin beneath.
Intradermal tests. The doctor will use a needle to inject the allergen a little deeper under the skin of your arm. You may need this test only if the others had unclear results.
Your doctor will probably test for many things at once. She will give you a physical exam and ask you questions, too. After the test and exam, your doctor should have a good sense of what triggers your allergies and what doesn't.
Skin tests are accurate, but they're not perfect. Doctors may need to figure out unclear results. It's important to work with a doctor who has a lot of experience with allergy testing.
Skin Testing Side Effects
If your body reacts to the allergen, you'll have swelling and some itchiness where the doctor injected it. These symptoms usually start within 15 minutes and fade away within 30 minutes.
Some people have a delayed reaction 24 to 48 hours later.
More serious allergic reactions are very rare. To be safe, doctors always do allergy testing in an office where they can watch you.