When a person finally realizes that they are reacting to a food and might have a food allergy, testing is the next vital step. If the reactions were severe, the chances are that the hospital involved will either order the tests or send information to the patient’s doctor stressing the need for food allergy testing. In fact, there are three common ways to test for food allergies, though two other ones give a clearer picture to an allergy specialist. These include a medical history assessment, scratch tests, bent tests, diet elimination tests and oral type challenge tests.
Medical History Assessments
Medical history assessments are done by the patient’s family doctor, including an overall physical exam and a look at the patient’s history of symptoms. The doctor will assess when the symptoms started, what foods were eaten prior to those symptoms, what time those foods were eaten and what environmental changes were experienced at the same time. Usually the doctor will supplement any medical history assessments by looking at any complaints within the patient’s medical records for comparable symptoms and get some diagnostic type tests done to enable the allergy specialists to better focus on the potential triggers.
Scratch tests are also known as prick tests. They are usually used to determine the overall number of foods that a patient is allergic to in one go. Varied food allergens are applied on the back or forearm of the skin and are left for a period of time to see if there are any reactions. Positive tests for the scratch tests usually involve wheals or hives. However, even if the scratch tests show nothing, this does not mean that the patient does not have food allergies, just that the tests were inconclusive and further testing is needed.
Bent tests are also known as the radioallergorbent or RAST tests. These are done by allergy specialists to find increases in antibody activity within the immune system in relation to potential food allergens. Usually these tests are done when the scratch tests have difficulty showing positive results, the patient has other existing skin conditions that make it hard to read the scratch tests, or testing a patient because of severe reactions could be too risky when done by the skin (ex. peanut allergies). Positive results usually show that the immune system is priming the body for a potential reaction and is producing antibodies as part of a reaction.
Diet Elimination Tests
Diet elimination tests can be done with or without the help of an allergy specialist, though having one involved allows for a formal record in the patient’s medical history. It can be undertaken in three different ways with the same principle applied throughout. Patients are limited to certain foods only that are less likely to create allergic reactions. Over a few days, additional foods are added individually over a week or more periods, but the waiting can be very frustrating. Despite the tediousness of it, it can be an effective method of determining which foods are causing the allergic responses and which are not. At the same time, even if food allergies are not shown, any intolerances will be revealed that would have been hard to determine through standard food allergy tests.
Oral Type Challenge Tests
One of the riskiest and most dangerous methods of testing for food allergies are the oral type challenge tests. The reason for this is that by taking a potential allergen orally, patients have to observed under medically supervised conditions for many hours to determine if there are reactions, what they are and what treatments they require. In the case of severe allergies, or life threatening ones, medical staff has to be ready to administer life-saving medications, as well as potentially life-saving emergency treatments at a moment’s notice. There are no guarantees how serious a reaction might be, or if that reaction could be fatal. Therefore, this type of test must never be done at home.
Advancements in Allergy Testing
Food allergy testing has come a long way over the past thirty years. New medications and treatments allow doctors and patients to get to the bottom of many symptoms quickly and methodically with minimal discomfort. However, scientists still have yet to determine why the body reacts to some foods and not others and what concoctions of medicinal ingredients will eventually permanently prevent food allergies for all people.