While allergy tests are quite safe for most people, the possibility of a condition known as anaphylaxis does exist. Anaphylaxis is a potentially dangerous condition that can result in difficulty breathing and a sharp drop in blood pressure. People with a known history of anaphylaxis should inform the testing clinician. Skin tests should never include a substance known to cause anaphylaxis in the person being tested.
Provocation tests may cause an allergic reaction. Therefore, treatment medications should be available following the tests, to be administered, if needed.
In prick testing, a drop of each allergen to be tested is placed on the skin, usually on the forearm or the back. A typical battery of tests may involve two dozen allergen drops, including a drop of saline solution that should not provoke a reaction (negative control) and a drop of histamine that should provoke a reaction (positive control). A small needle is inserted through the drop, and used to prick the skin below. A new needle is used for each prick. The sites are examined over the next twenty minutes for evidence of swelling and redness, indicating a positive reaction. In some instances, a tracing of the set of reactions may be made by placing paper over the tested area. Similarly, in intradermal testing, separate injections are made for each allergen tested. Observations are made over the next twenty minutes.
In RAST testing, a blood sample is taken for use in the laboratory, where the antibody-containing serum is separated from the blood cells. The serum is then exposed to allergens bound to a solid medium. If a person has antibodies to a particular allergen, those antibodies
will bind to the solid medium and remain behind after a rinse. Location of allergen-antibody combinations is done by adding antibody-reactive antibodies, so called anti-antibodies, that are chemically linked with a radioactive dye. By locating radioactive spots on the solid medium, the reactive allergens are discovered.
Provocation testing may be performed to identify airborne or food allergens. Inhalation testing is performed only after a patient's lung capacity and response to the medium used to dilute the allergen has been determined. Once this has been determined, the patient inhales increasingly concentrated samples of a particular allergen, followed each time by measurement of the exhalation capacity. Only one allergen is tested per day. Testing for food allergies is usually done by removing the suspect food from the diet for two weeks, followed by eating a single portion of the suspect food and follow-up monitoring.
Richard Robinson, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,