According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 50 million Americans have allergies, and the numbers are much higher world-wide. Food allergies are estimated to affect at least 20 percent of children and 10 percent of adults, with symptoms that range from mild to severe.

Diagnosing Your Food Allergies

To avoid allergic reactions, it’s important to identify the specific foods that trigger your allergy symptoms. A food allergy will usually cause some sort of allergic reaction each time the trigger food is eaten.

Symptoms and allergic reactions vary from person to person, and they can range from mild to severe. You may experience different symptoms with each allergic reaction. Allergic reactions to foods can cause skin rashes and hives, breathing problems, upset stomach or diarrhea, and heart palpitations. It’s impossible to predict exactly when an allergic reaction may occur or how severe it will be, so knowing the foods you’re allergic to will help you avoid those foods. If you suspect that you have food allergies, it’s important to see an allergist who can diagnose the trigger foods that are causing allergic reactions. Your allergist will do a thorough medical exam, ask questions about your diet and allergy symptoms, and prescribe antihistamine tablets that will help to prevent future allergic reactions. Your exam may include:

Skin-Prick Tests – With this test, a liquid containing a small amount of the suspected food allergen is placed on your arm or back. Your skin is pricked with a small, sterile needle to allow the liquid to penetrate your skin. You will also get a skin-prick with a neutral liquid that contains no allergen, so the doctor can be sure of an allergic reaction. The test usually takes about 30 minutes and it is not painful.

Blood Tests – Although a blood test is not as accurate as a skin-prick test to diagnose food allergies, it is very helpful. It measures the amount of specific antibodies in your blood stream that are related to each food allergen. Test results take about one week.

Oral Tests – In some cases, your allergist may conduct an oral food test for an accurate food allergy diagnosis. With this test, you will eat a small amount of the suspected trigger food and be observed over the next few hours to see if an allergic reaction occurs. This test is usually done when the skin-prick test or blood test shows inconclusive results.