Information from allergy tests may help your doctor develop an allergy treatment plan that includes allergen avoidance, medications or allergy shots (immunotherapy).
Allergy skin tests are widely used to help diagnose allergic conditions, including:
- Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
- Allergic asthma
- Dermatitis (eczema)
- Food allergies
- Penicillin allergy
- Bee venom allergy
- Latex allergy
Skin tests are generally safe for adults and children of all ages, including infants. In certain circumstances, though, skin tests aren't recommended. Your doctor may advise against skin testing if you:
- Have ever had a severe allergic reaction. You may be so sensitive to certain substances that even the tiny amounts used in skin tests could trigger a life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis).
- Take medications that could interfere with test results. These include antihistamines, many antidepressants and some heartburn medications. Your doctor may determine that it's better for you to continue taking these medications than to temporarily discontinue them in preparation for a skin test.
- Have certain skin conditions. If severe eczema or psoriasis affects large areas of skin on your arms and back — the usual testing sites — there may not be enough clear, uninvolved skin to do an effective test. Other skin conditions, such as dermatographism, can cause unreliable test results.
Blood tests (in vitro immunoglobulin E antibody tests) can be useful for those who shouldn't undergo skin tests. Blood tests aren't done as often as skin tests because they can be less sensitive than skin tests and are more expensive.
In general, allergy skin tests are most reliable for diagnosing allergies to airborne substances, such as pollen, pet dander and dust mites. Skin testing may help diagnose food allergies. But because food allergies can be complex, you may need additional tests or procedures.
April 02, 2014
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- AskMayoExpert. How are allergy skin tests performed? Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
- AskMayoExpert. What are the primary indications for allergy testing? Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
- Tips to remember: What is allergy testing? American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/whatisallergytesting.stm. Accessed Nov. 26, 2013.
- Allergy testing. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. http://www.acaai.org/public/background/testing.htm. Accessed Nov. 16, 2013.
- AskMayoExpert. What types of medications can interfere with allergy skin testing, and for how long should they be avoided before testing? Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
- Holgate ST, et al. Allergy. 4 ed. Edinburgh, U.K.: Elsevier. 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 13, 2013.
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