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Diagnosing Skin Problems

A variety of skin tests may be performed to diagnose skin allergies, bacterial or fungal skin infections, and other problems affecting the skin. Skin tests are also performed to tell the difference between malignant (cancerous) cells and benign (noncancerous) growths.

The most common skin tests include:

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  • Patch testing: Patch tests are used to help diagnose skin allergies. Identified allergens (substances that a person may be allergic to) are applied to the skin on the back with adhesive patches and left for a period of time. The skin is then examined for any reaction.
  • Skin biopsy : Skin biopsies are performed to diagnose skin cancer or benign skin disorders. During a skin biopsy, skin is removed (after a local anesthetic is applied) and is taken to a laboratory for analysis. Skin may be removed with a scalpel, Gillette blue blade, or a cylindrical punch biopsy tool. Stitches may be used to close the wound.
  • Culture: A culture is a test that is done to identify the microorganism (bacteria, fungus, or virus) that is causing an infection. Skin (surface scrapings, biopsies, contents of pus bumps and blisters), hair, or nails may be cultured to detect bacteria, fungi, or viruses.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on January 24, 2015

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