Allergy Skin Testing

Skin testing is a common diagnostic tool used to identify the specific allergens that trigger contact dermatitis and, occasionally, systemic allergic reactions. Common trigger substances include cleaning solutions, detergents, cosmetics, perfumes, latex rubber and poison ivy. Skin allergy tests may be administered to diagnose the root causes of allergic reactions.

Types of Skin Test Procedures

Before undergoing allergy skin testing, patients should stop using corticosteroids in the area to be tested and avoid taking oral antihistamines since either may produce inaccurate results. 

Patch Test

In this method of allergy testing, many patches are taped to the skin, usually the skin of the upper back. Unlike the two previous methods of allergy skin testing, patch tests necessitate that the patches be left in place for 48 hours during which the area must be kept dry. As with the other forms of allergy skin testing, patients must be alerted to the possibility of a severe reaction so they can remove any patch that is causing serious problems, such as wheezing, and notify their physician immediately.

No matter which way the allergens are applied to the skin, the physician examines the area for a reaction which may range from completely negative, meaning the patient has no allergy to the substance, to extreme, in which case the patient shows severe reaction to the substance, such as swelling, itching, blistering or ulceration. Once positive results have been determined, patients can take steps to avoid their triggers and prevent allergic responses from occurring.

Side Effects of Allergy Skin Testing

Although skin allergy testing is considered a safe and effective diagnostic tool, these tests do cause a small area of contact dermatitis at the site of application, and may, under certain circumstances, result in a mild version of systemic reactions. In very rare instances, skin allergy tests, usually only intradermal ones, can result in anaphylaxis, a systemic reaction during which the patient's may experience: itching, wheezing, swelling of the face or entire body, trouble breathing, and low blood pressure. Since this type of reaction can result in shock, and even death, in a short time, patients showing symptoms of anaphylaxis require emergency treatment.

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