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All About Allergy Testing

Why should I be tested for allergies?

Allergies are best known for causing nasal symptoms such as sneezing, itching, stuffiness and drainage. They can affect more than just your nose. They can affect your ears, eyes, throat and sinuses as well. They can make you feel bad, interfere with your sleep, make snoring worse, cause ear infections, lead to temporary or even permanent hearing loss, cause sinus infections, trigger headaches, make dizziness worse, cause coughing/choking and even make reflux worse. These are just a few of the undesirable effects of untreated or undertreated allergies. Symptoms can range from being mild and annoying to being severe enough to have a negative impact on your quality of life. Often we don’t realize the roll that allergies play in unwanted symptoms or how they make other conditions worse. Many people spend a lot of money treating their symptoms. It is our goal at Shea Clinic to provide the most effective and cost-efficient treatment for your allergies.

What is allergy testing?

An allergy test is either a blood test or a skin test that tells us exactly which allergen is causing your symptoms. Shea Clinic can safely and effectively provide testing to identify exactly which allergen is causing your symptoms. This involves either a blood test or a skin test. The blood test is a RAST or ImmunoCap and is a way to screen for allergies. The skin test is the “gold standard” for identifying specific allergen sensitivity. This involves placing droplets of antigens (the things that may be causing your problems) on your skin with plastic picks. There is minimal discomfort involved. If you are allergic to the antigen, your skin will swell, possibly get red, and itch much like a mosquito bite. Anti-itch cream is then applied to relieve the itch, redness, and swelling. The testing sites are usually back to normal by that evening. Allergy tests provide specific information so that your provider can offer you individualized, targeted and effective treatment.

What are specific types of allergy tests?

  • Blood (RAST or ImmunoCap) test: Your practitioner may initially choose to do a blood test. Since this test involves drawing blood, it is sent to a lab and results are not available immediately. They usually take about a week to come in, but this method is an easy way to screen for common allergens.
  • Scratch or puncture test: These tests are done on the surface of the skin. Tiny amounts of allergen are applied to the skin on your forearms with a plastic device. Results are available in 15-20 minutes.

Which allergens are in the allergy test?

The allergens that are included in the testing are:

  • Tree pollens
  • Grass pollens
  • Weed pollens
  • Molds
  • Dog
  • Cat
  • Feathers
  • Dust mites
  • Cockroach

The allergen extracts and vaccines/serums used in allergy tests and allergy shots are made commercially and are standardized according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements. This allows for safe, effective diagnosis and treatment of allergies.

Who can be tested and treated for allergies?

Adults and children of any age can be tested and treated for allergies. Because different allergens bother different people, your Shea Clinic provider will first take a thorough allergy history. Some medications can interfere with skin testing. Antihistamines, in particular, can inhibit some of the skin test reactions. The use of antihistamines should be stopped a week prior to skin testing. Meclizine or Antivert also interferes with the skin test. If you are on certain kinds of blood pressure medicine it is not safe for you to be tested or take shots, so the blood test will be used for screening. YOU SHOULD NOT STOP ANY BLOOD PRESSURE MEDICINES BEFORE YOUR TEST. Once we have the results of the test, we set up an individualized plan of care to minimize or eliminate your allergy symptoms.

Treatment for allergies includes:

  • Avoidance. Minimizing or eliminating your exposure is the best way to treat an allergy. This isn’t always easy or possible, so we have other options.
  • Specific medicines. This can be pills or sprays, depending on your response. There are many options for this and your practitioner will work with you to find the combination that works best for you.
  • Immunotherapy. There are allergy shots. The serum is prepared specifically for you based on the results of your testing. This is almost always covered by insurance either totally or with a minimal copay. Allergy drops under the tongue are not covered by insurance.

Should you or a loved one be in need of Allergy services, please call the Shea Clinic at (901) 761-9720 and ask to schedule an appointment with Terrye Mastin, APRN, BC.

Terrye is a native Memphian. She received her BS in Microbiology from Memphis State University (U of M), her BS in Nursing from the University of Tennessee College of Nursing, and her Masters of Science in Nursing from Arkansas State University. Her career focus began as helping patients with allergy and asthma issues and has expanded to include those with a variety of ear, nose, and throat issues. She has been a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology since 2000, and serves on their CME committee. She has published articles in peer-review journals and has lectured locally and nationally on topics of asthma and allergic disease.
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