Diagnosing allergy

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There are many different ways in which an allergy can be diagnosed. It can depend on the type of allergy and the age of the person being tested. Read more about the different types of tests that can be used.

Making a diagnosis
An accurate and early diagnosis is important to ensure appropriate allergy control and management.

The diagnosis of respiratory allergy is typically based on your ‘clinical history’, a physical examination and specific questions. An allergy clinician can in some cases identify the likely allergens just from your history and symptoms, but in order for your symptoms to be properly diagnosed, allergy testing is needed.

Some people skip a visit to a doctor and misdiagnose themselves. A proper diagnosis is important to get the right treatment and avoid the allergens that trigger your allergy symptoms. For instance, you can be allergic to more allergens than the one you think.

What is a skin prick test?
A skin prick test “provokes” an allergic reaction by adding a tiny amount of allergen into the skin.

The test allergens are selected according to your history and symptoms. A drop of the allergen extract is placed on the arm and with a lancet the skin is pierced and a very small amount of allergen enters into the skin. If you are allergic, your skin will react and you will see something very much like a mosquito bite at the site of allergen application.
A positive and a negative control are always performed at the same time. The positive control is a skin prick test without allergen, but with histamine that always causes a reaction and functions as a control.

Important facts

  • The simple and quick skin prick test is conducted by specially trained nurses or doctors, and results can be provided within 15-20 minutes.

When is a blood test needed?
A blood test can be used on its own, or to confirm the skin prick test’s results. It measures the amount of allergen-specific antibodies (IgE) in a small sample of blood. If high levels of specific antibodies towards allergen(s) are found in the blood, it means that you are sensitised to that specific allergen(s) and there is an increased probability for allergy. Your doctor or physician may choose a blood test if you have severe eczema or poorly controlled asthma, can’t stop taking antihistamine medications for a few days, or have a history of life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Usually, your doctor or a nurse will take a blood sample from a blood vessel in your arm. The sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis and the results are available within a few weeks. At the laboratory, they normally test for a series of standard allergens to find out if you are allergic to one or more allergens.

[Link to Allergy Severity Questionnaire]

Diagnosing asthma
Diagnosis of asthma in children is difficult because symptoms may occur from a number of different conditions. Many people consider wheezing synonymous with asthma. Yet, there are many different causes of wheeze in childhood. Children with asthma may experience wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing. If you suspect that your child might suffer from asthma, consult your doctor who will make a diagnosis based on your medical and family histories, a physical exam, and test results.

Getting help and support
We recommend that you contact your doctor who can help you find out what is causing your symptoms.

You can perhaps also find help or advice here at http://www.efanet.org (European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations.

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