Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

There's no standard test used to confirm or rule out a food allergy. Your doctor will consider a number of things before making a diagnosis. The following may help determine if you're allergic to a food or if your symptoms are caused by something else:

  • Description of your symptoms. Be prepared to tell your doctor a history of your symptoms — which foods, and how much, seem to cause problems — and whether you have a family history of food allergies or other allergies.
  • Physical examination. A careful exam can often identify or exclude other medical problems.
  • Food diary. Your doctor may ask you to keep a food diary of your eating habits, symptoms and medications to pinpoint the problem.
  • Skin test. A skin prick test can determine your reaction to a particular food. In this test, a small amount of the suspected food is placed on the skin of your forearm or back. Your skin is then pricked with a needle to allow a tiny amount of the substance beneath your skin surface.

    If you're allergic to a particular substance being tested, you develop a raised bump or reaction. Keep in mind, a positive reaction to this test alone isn't enough to confirm a food allergy.

  • Elimination diet. You may be asked to eliminate suspect foods for a week or two and then add the food items back into your diet one at a time. This process can help link symptoms to specific foods. However, this isn't a foolproof method.

    Psychological factors as well as physical factors can come into play. For example, if you think you're sensitive to a food, a response could be triggered that may not be a true allergic one. If you've had a severe reaction to a food in the past, this method may not be safe.

  • Blood test. A blood test can measure your immune system's response to particular foods by checking the amount of allergy-type antibodies in your bloodstream known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. For this test, a blood sample taken in your doctor's office is sent to a medical laboratory, where different foods can be tested. However, these blood tests aren't always accurate.
  • Oral food challenge. During this test, done in the doctor's office, you'll be given small but increasing amounts of the suspect food. If you don't have a reaction during this test, you may be able to include this food in your diet again.
Feb. 12, 2014

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