Food allergies are becoming increasingly common amongst the general population. They can cause a range of symptoms from a mild rash or stomach cramps to anaphylaxis– a condition that can be life-threatening. Food allergy testing is an important diagnostic tool to establish what type of foodis causing an allergic reaction. This allows a person to better manage their allergies and prevent serious complications.
What Is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy is a condition that causes the body to react to certain foods. In most people, a food allergy is mild, but for others, it can be very serious. It is caused by the immune system –designed to protect you against harmful diseases and infections–overreacting to a typically harmless substance, causing it to produce antibodies to attack the substance with an inflammatory response. A food allergyrequires ongoing management to help prevent reactions, which in some casescould be life-threatening.
It is possible to be allergic to any type of food, but the most common food allergies are to:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts, such as walnuts andalmonds
- Fish and/or shellfish
Symptoms of a food allergy can affect any part of the body, but the most common symptoms include an itchy, red rash or hives and feeling dizzy or lightheaded. Other symptoms may include swelling of lips, face, and eyes, coughing,wheezing, a runny nose or congestion, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In some people, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis –a severe allergic reaction that involves multiple organ systemsand can belife-threatening if not treated quickly.
Although food allergies typically develop in early childhood, they can occur at any stage of life. If you suspect you have a food allergy, it is important to visit an allergist to get a clear diagnosis to prevent potentially serious allergic reactions.
Why Have a Food Allergy Test?
In some people, it may be obvious as to what type of food is causing their allergies. They may experience symptoms such as an itchy, red rash immediately after eating a specific food. However, for others, it can be less clear, with symptoms appearing many hours after eating the offending food.
An allergist is a trained specialist in testing for and diagnosing food allergies. If you are experiencing symptoms of a food allergy, they will evaluate several different factors to establish the cause of your symptoms.
Detailed Medical History
The first step is to take a detailed medical history. This includes asking a lot of questions about your allergy symptoms, diet, medications you are taking, lifestyle, and home environment, and checking your family’s medical history, particularly regarding allergies. The questions can help your allergist find out what is causing your allergy or what specific factors may be making your symptoms worse.
Based on the information gathered, your allergist will decide which tests may be necessary to determine if you have a food allergy. You may also be asked to keep a daily food diary where you will record all the foods you consume and any symptoms you experience. You may be asked to eliminate certain foods from your diet for a period of time to assess whether symptoms decrease.
Skin and Blood Allergy Tests
In some cases, your allergist may recommend skin or blood testing to help diagnose a food allergy. Immunoglobulin (IgE) blood tests can help identify the presence of specific IgE antibodies, which at high levels can indicate an allergic reaction to specific substances.
Allergy tests can be used to indicate a food allergy, and negative tests can help rule out a food allergy. However, a positive test alone does not confirm a diagnosis of a food allergy and doesn’t always signify that a patient will react to that food when eaten. The tests also cannot predict how severe the reaction may be if the specific food is eaten.Also, some patients may appear allergic to a certain food during testing but have no symptoms when eating the food.
Oral Food Challenge Testing
The most accurate type of food allergy testing is an oral food challenge, or feeding test, which can confirm a food allergy diagnosis or rule one out. The test involves gradually eating controlled amounts of a suspected allergy-causing food while in your doctor’s office, under strict medical supervision. This helps ensure you receive prompt and appropriate treatment in the event you experience an allergic reaction. When conducted by a board-certified allergist, the test is considered safe and is more reliable than skin tests or blood tests to confirm food allergies.
How Is a Food Allergy Treated?
The results of all allergy tests will be reviewed with you. Your allergist will discuss all your treatment options with you once testing is completed. They will work closely with you to develop a personalized treatment plan to help manage your allergy effectively. The aim of the plan is to help ensure a healthy, safe, and normal lifestyle for you. Treatment options may include medications, such as epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens) and oral antihistamines, food avoidance strategies, and oral immunotherapy – a state-of-the-art treatment that gradually desensitizes the immune system to a particular allergen. It can significantly reduce the risk of a severe reaction to an accidental food allergen exposure.
Food Allergy Testing in Northeast Illinois
If you have a suspected food allergy and are interested in getting tested, visit Oak Brook Allergists. We are leading experts in the diagnosis and treatment of many different types of food allergies. Our dedicated allergy specialists provide comprehensive allergy and asthma healthcare for patients of all ages. We offer a wide range of diagnostic testing, including skin, blood, and food tests, to diagnose allergies and effective treatments, such as oral immunotherapy, medications, and allergy shots.
For more information or to schedule a visit, call us at (630) 574-0460 or request your appointment online. We offer extended and weekend hours at four convenient locations, allowing you to get the care you need right away.