The Truth About Food Allergy Testing


Food AllergyA food allergy is a life-threatening condition that can have dire consequences if not recognized and treated immediately. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE):

  • Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies and the number of sufferers is on the rise for no known reason.
  • This potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S.
  • Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department – that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year.
  • It is possible to have anaphylaxis without any skin symptoms (no rash, hives).
  • Failure to promptly (i.e., within minutes) treat food anaphylaxis with epinephrine is a risk factor for fatalities.

Fortunately, what most people think is a food allergy is actually an intolerance, which while uncomfortable, is not serious. The problem is that a few of the symptoms of each can be similar, although they can vary in degree, and if the allergy symptoms aren’t treated immediately, the result can be fatal. For more information on the difference between food allergies and food intolerance, visit the CT Sinus Center (our sister office) blog: “Food for Thought: Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance.”

Other than experiencing a reaction, which is definitely not ideal, the best way to figure out if you have an allergy or intolerance is to be tested by an allergy specialist. There are two types of allergy testing: skin prick and blood.

  • Skin Prick Test (SPT): A drop of liquid containing extract from a specific food is placed on the skin. Next, the allergist lightly scratches (pricks) the area so that the liquid can get underneath, exposing the patient to the allergen. An allergy is indicated by the development of a wheal, which FARE defines as a “a raised white bump surrounded by a small circle of itchy red skin.” This quick test is usually conclusive within 30 minutes.
  • Blood Test: Like any other blood test, a sample is drawn and sent to a laboratory, where it is exposed to food allergens. A positive result is determined when the blood produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in response to the specific triggers. Blood test results take several days to process.

Unfortunately, food allergy tests aren’t perfect, and there are several factors that can influence the results. According to FARE, “About 50-60 percent of all SPTs yield ‘false positive’ results,” and certain medications, particularly antihistamines, can have an impact on the outcome. Blood tests aren’t 100% accurate either, and throw in the fact that different labs use different test brands and scoring, the doctor’s interpretation of the results can be off. Furthermore, FARE explains, “The [blood] results are not very helpful for predicting the severity of an allergy. Instead, the test gives information about the chance that there is an allergy. This test is not like a pregnancy test, in which a person is or is not pregnant.”

All that said, in the hands of experienced allergists, such as those at Westwood ENT, both skin and blood tests are effective tools in helping to diagnose food allergies when combined with other diagnostic methods, such as:

With the expert evaluation and diagnosis you’ll receive at Westwood ENT, you can be assured that your diet is safe, albeit not always “diet.”

Call (888) 230-3715 today to schedule your appointment for food allergy testing at one of our four-conveniently located offices.

(And for all things ear, nose and throat related, visit the Westwood ENT website and blog.)

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