Sunflowers giving you the sniffles? Bread giving your tummy the blues? Allergies can of course range from the severe, like life threatening nut allergies, to troublesome summer hayfever, to a gassy reaction to dairy. So, if you suspect that you have an allergy, knowing what you’re allergic to is the key to managing your condition, which is why getting a reliable test and diagnosis is the first pivotal step back to health.
Allergy tests can take many forms, however the most common in the UK are:
Skin prick tests -This is usually the first test to be done when looking for an allergen. It’s quick, painless and safe, and you get the results within about 20 minutes. Your skin is pricked with a tiny amount of the suspected allergen to see if there's a reaction. If there is, the skin around the prick will very quickly become itchy, and a red wheal will appear.
Blood tests - This is called a specific IgE test (formally known as the RAST test). It's used to measure the amount of IgE antibodies in your blood that have been produced by your immune system in response to a suspected allergen.
Patch tests - This test is used to see if a skin reaction, for example eczema, is caused by contact with a specific chemical or substance. A small amount of the suspect substance or chemical, such as nickel, is added to special metal discs, which are taped to your skin for 48 hours and monitored for a reaction. This test is usually carried out at a dermatology (skin) department in a hospital.
Food challenge - Also called an oral challenge, this test is the most accurate for food allergies. During the test, you're given the food to which you think you are allergic in gradually increasing amounts to see how you react. Only one food can be tested at each appointment.
Commercial tests - Some commercial allergy testing kits, such as hair analysis tests and VEGA tests, are not recommended by doctors because there is little scientific evidence to support them.
Symptoms of an allergy can of course vary wildly depending upon the type of allergy and contagion involved. If you have a serious allergy, chances are you’ll know about it already but if it is something more insipid like a food intolerance, then symptoms can include: anxiety (acute or chronic), asthma, bloating, coeliac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, constipation, depression, gastritis, IBS and migraines. The only way to know if you have an allergy for sure is to have a test. A good place to start is your GP/family doctor, however if you choose to have private allergy testing, it's important to see a reputable, trained specialist.
Genuine food allergy is rare. About 2% of the population, and 8% of children under the age of 3, are affected. Food intolerance is more common. Allergy UK estimates that up to 45% of people in the UK suffer from food intolerance.