Allergy Testing For Food, Pollen, and Molds

allergy testing arm wheals
I recently had a series of allergy tests done – 5 sets in all – to see if I was allergic to anything to the point where I should be carrying an EpiPen, and then to learn more about non-allergic adverse reactions to foods and other things, such as my reaction to the nightshade family (potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, kava, and tobacco).

During the testing, I had to lie down on a table and the technician brought in a tray of allergens in a theme, such as major or minor foods, then pollens/grasses/trees/molds in various combinations. For some they wanted further clarification, so shots were injected subcutaneously into my arm after the testing on my back was completed.

The skin testing helps determine what you would react to in a severe way, possibly requiring the use of an EpiPen to prevent anaphylaxis if encountered. While I have many adverse reactions to foods, I know that only about 1-3% of adults have true allergies to foods so I wasn’t thinking I would show any positives in those tests. My doctor explained that a person may still have adverse reactions even if they don’t show on the skin test, but that those are not likely to result in life-threatening ways, so other options are available for treatment, such as taking a certain antihistamine cocktail for a few days before trying them out. He really took the fear out of food reactions for me, as most of mine, while fairly unpleasant, only last a couple of days, and I realized that if I was stuck somewhere with no other food source, I would not starve because I would bite the bullet and eat what was given, even if I felt sick for a bit after.

The skin test is a little prickly and then itchy, especially where they poke you with the pure histamine which is used as a control to make sure they are getting a good reaction –  I was instructed to be off all antihistamines, including those for acid reflux, for 5 days before each set of testing as they can interfere with the results. I had to lie there in the little room for 20 minutes each time while I felt all sorts of itchiness occurring and really wanted to scratch my back but instead found something to read to distract myself. The results are determined by measuring the urticaria or wheals that form and then the redness circumference around the wheal, so a positive would have a wheal of >3mm wide and redness >10mm wide, or written as 3/10.

I found out that the only two foods I have a true, skin-testable allergy to are red pepper (3/13) and lobster (6/30 – my wheal for lobster was as wide as the histamine!) Allergy to one shellfish gives a 75% likelihood of being allergic to other shellfish. I was surprised I didn’t have a positive test for oranges, as I have had a reaction in the past after drinking some juice and having some fresh. I did test positive for many pollens from grasses, weeds, and trees, as well as molds, and this can explain why some foods are allergenic when consumed, as some pollens are very similar in structure to food proteins, which may cause a faulty allergic reaction in the body when consumed. An example is being allergic to birch pollen might give you an adverse reaction to apples, peaches, or melons.

With the results in, I am looking at the way I eat food a little differently. I was told by my allergist the more I avoided certain foods that didn’t provide a true allergic reaction, the more sensitive I would be to them, such as potatoes. That instead of eating less of them over time and getting more reactive, I would have been better served to keep eating them to maintain my body’s ability to tolerate them. I’d wondered about that in the past, so am looking forward to future appointments where we discuss strategies to maybe make it possible for me to regain some of those forbidden foods in my diet.

I’m not suggesting anyone do this out there without the help of a doctor, but if you haven’t had allergy testing and have problems with specific foods, it may be worth your while to make an appointment. It’s worth a shot! 😉

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