Allergy Testing: When It’s Necessary, What It Involves

By Alicia Purdy

One of the worst things about allergic reactions is how quickly they can crop up. One day everything is fine and the next day, your child is covered in spots or rashes or can't stop sneezing, coughing, wheezing or itching. You're left trying to figure out what went wrong. Was it something she ate? Did he touch or play with something bad? Getting to the bottom of an allergic reaction--and preventing future reactions--requires you to play detective and figure out how to help your suffering child.

Allergic reactions can show up in a number of different ways - from skin reactions to swelling, breathing problems, sniffling and sneezing or coughing, stomach and bowel issues, behavior problems and more. If you suspect that your child is having a life-threatening allergic reaction, get to a doctor immediately.

Occasional Allergies vs. Constant Allergies

Not everyone is truly allergic to one thing or another, even though allergies are very common. Life-threatening allergies are not common, however. Studies have shown that children who breastfeed for at least six months have a lower likelihood of allergies, but your child's allergy issues may not be directly linked to a shorter breastfeeding timeline or anything else you did or didn't do. Spring and autumn are the most common seasons for allergic reactions to environmental factors. During these seasons, animals shed, plants bloom, and pollen, mold and dust are everywhere. Whether your child lives with seasonal or year-round allergies, try to eliminate as many possible triggers as possible to give them relief. Clean up frequently after pets (if you're opposed to giving them up), keep windows shut, vacuum and dust regularly, and switch to hypoallergenic detergents.

Allergy Signs to Look For

The signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction vary and not all allergic reactions present the same way. Some of the most classic signs your child may be allergic to something include:

  • red bumps around the mouth or on the contact site

  • a swollen face or lips

  • itching in or around the throat and face or body

  • hives anywhere on the body

  • stomach issues like diarrhea and vomiting

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction, most often to food or bee stings, that can lead to death when airways swell up to the point that oxygen can't pass through. It is usually fast-acting, coming on very suddenly. If your child has any difficulty breathing, get to a doctor right away, or first use an EpiPen (epinephrine) if you have one available for emergency use.

Seasonal allergies, and allergies to environmental factors (like pets or dust or detergents), may present with symptoms the following symptoms:

  • coughing

  • sneezing

  • watery eyes

  • wheezing

  • hives

  • rashes

Eczema, contrary to popular belief, is not an allergic reaction to any single, specific factor. In fact, it is thought to be an immune system malfunction that can be triggered by an allergy, although doctors don't know exactly what causes it.

Getting Allergy Testing

If you're managing your child's allergies just fine and have gotten to the bottom of what's triggering allergic responses - good for you! Now you can work on keeping your child away from whatever will cause an issue. If your child keeps having flare-ups, and you can't pin-point what's causing the problem, it's time to get him tested. Your pediatrician will probably help you rule out certain factors before taking the next steps. If a food allergy is suspected, your pediatrician will likely tell you to eliminate all foods except those known to be non-allergenic. Gradually, over a few weeks, you will add food back into your child's diet and see what he reacts to. Next, the pediatrician may refer you to an allergist who will conduct a series of additional tests that may include:

  • Skin testing - A skin test involves pricking the skin of the back or arm with a tiny amount of suspected trigger to expose the skin to certain allergens and recording the body's response. This can be taxing on the body, however, and is not appropriate for everyone, especially very young children.

  • Blood test - For people who cannot tolerate a skin test, a blood test may be conducted. The blood will be tested for an allergic response and based on the test results, and considered along with a complete medical history, your doctor will be able to make a better determination of what's causing an issue.

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