Allergy testing

A girl thinking

Allergies are on the rise worldwide. But often people with allergy symptoms such as allergic rhinitis haven’t had a diagnosis from a health care provider. And even fewer people know what allergen or allergens they react to. Some people might not even be aware that the symptoms they’re experiencing are caused by an allergy. Let’s take a look at allergies and allergy testing.

What is an allergy?

An allergic reaction takes place when your immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless substance as a threat and takes excessive defensive action. Substances that trigger an allergic reaction are called allergens.

Allergies may affect your family life, work performance, social activities and more. Allergy symptoms can affect your sleep, which can impact your energy levels during the day. And ultimately some allergies can even be life-threatening.

There are many types of allergies

The severity of symptoms for each type of allergy can vary, and you may experience your symptoms differently from other people with allergies. Some of the symptoms from a reaction to one type of allergen are similar to those caused by another. It can be confusing to know what’s what.

Typical symptoms of an allergic reaction might include...

Pollen allergy

Stuffy nose | Runny nose | Sneezing | Itchy nose | Itchy, red watery eyes | Cough

Mold allergy

Stuffy nose | Runny nose | Sneezing | Itchy nose | Itchy, red watery eyes | Cough | Tight chest or wheezing

Insect sting allergy

Any symptoms that go beyond the normal sensation of pain, local redness and wheals should be taken very seriously. If you're affected you should seek medical attention or call an ambulance as soon as possible.

Pet allergy

Stuffy nose | Runny nose | Sneezing | Itchy nose | Itchy, red watery eyes

Dust mite allergy

Stuffy nose | Runny nose | Sneezing | Itchy nose | Itchy, red watery eyes | Cough | Skin reactions, rashes, eczema

Food allergy

Bloating | Diarrhea | Nausea | Skin reactions | Itching | In severe cases, anaphylaxis

Other causes for your symptoms

There can be other causes for your symptoms. For example, foods can cause unpleasant symptoms, such as bloating, nausea or diarrhea. These symptoms can have many different causes, allergies being one of them. It is important to note that food allergies are different from food intolerance. Food intolerance is when your body is unable to process certain foods.

How do you choose the best treatment for your symptoms if you aren’t sure what’s causing them?

What is allergy testing?

An allergy test may help you to find out which triggers might be causing your symptoms and to rule out others. Having the right information can help you to better manage your allergy.


Once you have the results from your allergy test, you’ll have a better idea of what you could be allergic to. And then tackling your allergy symptoms becomes simpler.

Allergy testing can show an indication of your triggers. It is not a diagnosis. Only a health care provider can give you a diagnosis of allergy. Any allergy test results have to be interpreted alongside your unique medical background and your symptoms.

Is allergy testing worthwhile?

We believe an allergy test can make a difference. We want to give you the information you need about allergy testing so you can make the right decision for you.

Once you have the results from your allergy test, you’ll have a better idea of what you could be allergic to. And then tackling your allergy symptoms becomes simpler.

The results from your allergy test can help determine exactly what triggers your symptoms. You’re then set up to take measures to avoid those substances. And most importantly you’ll be able to get the most suitable treatment for your allergy.

How do I get an allergy test?

There are different ways to start the journey toward a diagnosis of allergy. You may start right here by reading relevant information online and deciding if allergy testing is right for you. You may wish to start with a home allergy test to get an indication. Or you may prefer to talk directly to your health care provider for advice. You can choose your own path but consulting your doctor about the results of any allergy test is essential in order to get a diagnosis and access to the best treatment options.

What’s involved with an allergy test appointment?

The information we’re giving you in this section is to give you an idea of what you might be able to expect at your allergy test appointment. If you have any questions or concerns about any of the steps or procedures we’re outlining here, do have a chat with your health care provider before the test.

Your health care provider is likely to ask you questions about your symptoms. Questions such as how badly they affect you, when they occur and how long they last. Keeping a regular log of your symptoms can be useful for talking them through with your health care provider.

Since allergy tends to run in families, you might be asked if anyone in your family has ever had hay fever, another type of allergy or eczema.

Your health care provider may want to perform a simple examination, such as looking at your eyes, ears, nose and throat. If your symptoms affect your chest, like coughing or wheezing (that whistling sound made when breathing in), you might be asked to do a lung function test.

If your allergy symptoms are mild and the cause is obvious, your health care provider will be able to offer advice and discuss treatment options with you. But if your allergy is more severe or it’s not clear what’s causing your symptoms, you may be referred for allergy testing. An allergy test usually takes place at an allergist’s office.

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Testing allergy with skin prick tests, blood tests or home allergy tests

Allergy tests detect Immunoglobulin E (IgE) in your body.

IgE is an antibody produced by the immune system to protect us from outside intruders such as parasites. In an allergic reaction to substances such as pollen, house dust mites or insect stings, the same defense mechanisms are triggered. Your body produces IgE antibodies specific to the substance it’s reacting to. These antibodies tell cells in your body to release certain chemicals. And it’s those chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.

When your body produces IgE antibodies against a specific allergen, then you’re sensitized. To understand how allergy tests work, it’s necessary to highlight that there is a difference between being sensitized and having allergy. Don’t worry, we explain the difference below.

If you’re affected by the allergy seasons, your bathroom cabinet may hold medicines like antihistamines or corticosteroids

Sensitized or allergic
What's the difference?

What is sensitization?

Sensitization is the first step of developing allergy. Allergic reactions do not happen the first time you encounter an allergen. First, your immune system has to register the allergen. For example, by being stung by a bee. Then your immune system memorizes the particular structure of the allergen so that it can produce specific IgE antibodies against it. This process is called sensitization.

Sensitized but not allergic

Some people have developed IgE antibodies for a specific allergen, but when they come into contact with the trigger again, they don’t experience any allergy symptoms.

These people are sensitized but not allergic. In other words, their immune system is sensitive to an allergen or allergens, but they don’t experience any symptoms of allergy.

Sensitized and allergic

For other people, when they are re-exposed to the allergen, they experience allergy symptoms. These people are both sensitized and allergic. Their immune system is sensitive to an allergen or allergens, and this causes symptoms of allergy.

So, sensitization does not always lead to symptoms, but symptoms do not develop without sensitization.

We aren’t sure why some people stop at sensitization and others progress to allergy. Our immune systems are highly complex and unique and not all processes and mechanisms are fully understood yet.

Allergy tests show your sensitization to specific allergens

Skin prick tests, blood tests and home allergy tests give you an indication of your sensitization to certain allergens. So, you’ll have an idea what you’re sensitized to, but that doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily allergic.

As described above, you can be sensitized, but have no allergy symptoms whatsoever. This is why it’s necessary for your health care provider to view any allergy test results in light of your symptom history and your medical background.

Skin prick allergy tests

A hand having skin prick allergy tests

Skin prick allergy tests

Skin prick tests are one of the most common ways to get an idea of what you are allergic to. Usually, the skin on the underside of your forearm or you back will be used. A drop of fluid containing a known allergen will be placed on your skin and the skin underneath gently pricked.

For most people, a skin prick allergy test isn’t painful, but you may find it a little uncomfortable or itchy. Skin prick tests are generally well tolerated. In rare cases, skin prick tests can trigger a severe, immediate allergic reaction. That’s why it's important to have skin prick tests performed at an office where appropriate emergency equipment and medications are available.

The skin pricking part of the test lasts about ten minutes. Once this is complete, you will need to wait for 15 to 20 minutes before the results can be analyzed.

If the skin around the needle prick area becomes itchy, red and develops a small swelling called a wheal, then you have tested positive for that particular trigger. After your allergy test, your health care provider will be able to discuss your results with you.

Allergy blood tests

Your health care provider may offer you a blood test instead of a skin prick test. Allergy blood tests are especially useful if you have a skin condition. Or if you take certain medications that could interfere with skin prick test results. Allergy blood tests may also be used if the results from skin prick tests didn’t give clear results.

With blood tests, you’re not directly exposed to allergens. Instead, a sample of your blood is checked in the lab. The lab will check the specific IgE levels in your blood. You will need to go back to your doctor to discuss the results, when they are ready.

Test tube in yellow

Allergy blood tests

Home allergy tests

A home allergy test allows you to test yourself, at home. Testing at home is quite simple. If you choose a home allergy test to get an idea what might be causing your symptoms, always discuss your allergy test results with your health care provider. This way, you’ll be able to get a proper diagnosis and access to effective allergy management.

There are different kinds of self-tests on the market, testing everything from hair samples to your grip strength. These have no scientific validity. We recommend you choose a test that tests for IgE. This will mean it’s comparable to the allergy blood tests performed at an allergist’s office.

Watch out for test kits that are based on detecting Immunoglobulin G (IgG) or Immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies. It’s such a similar name to IgE but IgG and IgA antibodies cannot be used to get an indication of potential allergy triggers.

There are different types of a home allergy tests detecting IgE: we distinguish between home-to-lab tests and self-test kits.

Home-to-lab allergy blood tests

If you want a comprehensive view of your allergy you can usually test a great variety of allergens with a home-to-lab allergy blood test detecting IgE in your blood.

A home-to-lab allergy blood test typically comes with everything you need to collect a small blood sample from your fingertip and instructions on how to do it. With these types of tests, you have to send your blood sample to the lab for analysis. When your sample has been analyzed you can usually access your test results online. Your test results will give you an overview of the allergens that you are sensitized to.

Home allergy tests

Finger tip with blood in blue

Allergy self-test kits

With an allergy self-test kit, you perform the simple test yourself, using a small sample of your blood. Since it’s a test done at home, the number of allergens tested can be fewer than in a home-to-lab test.

An allergy self-test kit requires you taking a small blood sample from your fingertip. Typically, instructions and everything you need is included in the kit. If the test has been performed according to the instructions, you will be able to see the results shortly after.

Home allergy test results

A home allergy test shows sensitization and can be a first step to finding out if you have an allergy. It doesn’t diagnose allergy. Remember, any allergy test has to be interpreted by a health care provider alongside your unique medical background and your symptoms.

Like all allergy tests, there is a possibility that a home allergy test will provide false positive results (meaning the test detects a response to an allergen even though there is none). Or false negative results (meaning the test does not pick up on a reaction to an allergen). Do not take any decisions or actions to change your medication or diet based on the results of a home allergy test without consulting your health care provider first. Only a health care provider can give you a diagnosis of allergy.

What to do following an allergy test

Once you’ve got a diagnosis based on allergy testing and a review of your medical history, you’ll know precisely what your triggers are. Knowing what you are allergic to means you’re better equipped to manage your allergy symptoms.

As an example, if you’re allergic to pollen, you can check the specific pollen levels and plan your day accordingly. You’ll also be able to identify which part of the pollen season is likely to be worst for you, so you can take steps to manage your allergy before the season begins.

Some allergic reactions may also become more understandable to you once you know what you are allergic to. For example, if you’re allergic to ragweed pollen, you may experience a cross-reaction to certain foods like cantaloupes, honeydew melons, watermelon, banana, cucumber, white potato and zucchini.

Or if you’re allergic to molds or dust mites, you can focus on controlling the humidity and taking measures to reduce mold or mite levels in your home.

Similarly, if you’re allergic to pet dander there are precautions you can take to minimize this substance in the air you breathe.

And most importantly, you’ll be able to discuss your treatment options with your doctor or allergist and make decisions that are right for you.

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If you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, thank you. And we’d love to know what you think. Are you considering being tested for allergy? Have you already had an allergy test done? Has knowing what you’re allergic to made a difference for you? Head over to our Facebook page or email us and share your story.
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