Trying to figure out what is causing your allergies can be difficult. The first thing you need to do is to pay close attention to when and where you are having your allergy symptoms. Allergens are small particles, such as pollen, dust, animal dander or mold, that your body can be allergic to. Throughout the day, we are exposed to many different of these allergens. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine what specifically you are allergic to. Fortunately, there is another way to figure out what you are allergic to. One of the most accurate ways of diagnosing the causes of allergies to is by undergoing skin testing.

Skin testing consists of placing drops of suspected allergens on the upper back. The skin beneath each drop is pricked with the tip of a small pin or prong. There is little discomfort because only the top surface layer of skin is scratched. This test can even be done in small children. A small "mosquito bite" like swelling develops under the drop. If allergies are present, there may be a larger swelling that itches or might sting. The swelling generally goes away within thirty to sixty minutes.

The back is usually chosen due to its convenience and standardization. However, skin tests can be done on other parts of the body.

After testing for allergens is completed, the results are read in twenty minutes.

Depending on the history, the testing may include grasses, trees, weeds, dust, molds, animal dander, feathers, and foods.

Skin testing is not accurate if the person has used antihistamines before testing. Antihistamines are typically held three to five days before testing.

Once you know what you are allergic to, you should be able to more effectively control your environment and make your allergy symptoms better.

Adapted from A Patient's Practical Guide to Allergies and Asthma, 1999.

By the California Society of Allergy Asthma & Immunology

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