Children can develop allergies at any age. The sooner these allergies are identified, the sooner they can be treated, minimizing the symptoms and improving quality of life. Allergy symptoms can include:
- skin rashes
- trouble breathing
- sneezing, runny nose, or congestion
- itchy eyes
- upset stomach
Allergies can be triggered by a variety of things, including indoor and outdoor irritants, as well as foods. If you notice allergy symptoms in your child, make an appointment for them with a pediatrician or an allergist, a doctor specializing in allergies.
Before the appointment, keep a log of symptoms and exposures. This will help the doctor see if there might be a pattern. There are a variety of allergy tests they can do to help identify specific allergies your child might have.
Allergies are common in infants and children, and can interfere with:
- school attendance
- overall health
If your child has adverse reactions to certain foods, allergy testing is important to do for their safety. You can have your child tested at any age, however, skin tests generally aren’t done in children under the age of 6 months. Allergy tests may be less accurate in very young children.
If you notice allergy or cold-like symptoms that don’t go away in a couple of weeks, talk with your doctor about the possibility of allergies and whether allergy testing is appropriate.
In a skin prick test, a small drop of an allergen will be placed on the skin. It’s then pricked with a needle, so that some of the allergen can get into the skin.
If your child has an allergy to the substance, a swollen reddish bump will form, along with a ring around it. This test is often considered the gold standard of allergy tests. It can be done at any age after 6 months.
What to expect
Before any testing is done, the doctor will ask when you’ve noticed symptoms appearing in your child, along with any medical history they might have.
If your child is on any medication, you might have to take them off of it for a certain amount of time before the test. The doctor will then determine the allergens for which they’ll test. They might choose only a handful, or several dozen.
The testing is typically done on the inside of the arm or on the back. The time the testing takes can vary, depending on how many allergens are being tested. You’ll get results the same day.
False positives and negatives are common. Talk with your child’s doctor about things to look out for after testing is done.
This test involves injecting a small amount of an allergen under the skin of the arm. This is often done to test for penicillin allergies or allergies to insect venom.
What to expect
This test will be done in the doctor’s office. A needle is used to inject a small amount of an allergen under the skin on the arm. After approximately 15 minutes, the injection site is checked for any allergic reaction.
There are multiple blood tests available for allergies. These tests measure antibodies in your child’s blood specific to different allergens, including foods. The higher the level, the higher the likelihood of an allergy.
What to expect
The blood test is similar to any other blood test. You child will have blood drawn, and the sample will be sent to a lab for testing. Multiple allergies can be tested with one blood draw, and there are no risks of allergic reactions. Results usually come back in several days.
If your child has had rashes or hives, patch testing might be done. This can help determine if an allergen is causing skin irritation.
What to expect
This test is similar to a skin prick test, but without a needle. Allergens are put onto patches, which are then put on the skin. This can be done with 20 to 30 allergens, and the patches are worn on the arm or back for 48 hours. They’re removed at the doctor’s office.
To diagnose a food allergy, doctors will often use skin tests as well as blood tests. If both are positive, the food allergy is assumed. If the results are inconclusive, a food challenge test may be done.
Food challenge tests are used both to determine if a child has a food allergy and to see if they’ve outgrown a food allergy. They’re usually done in an allergist’s office or in a hospital because of the potential for adverse reactions.
What to expect
Over the course of a day, your child will be given increased amounts of a certain food and monitored closely for reactions. Only one food can be tested at a time.
Prior to the test, tell the allergist about any medications your child is on, as they might have to be discontinued for a bit. Your child shouldn’t eat after midnight the night before testing. They can have clear liquids only.
The day of the testing, small portions of the food in question will be given in increasingly large amounts with a period of time between each dose — five to eight doses in total. After the last dose of food is given, monitoring for several hours will take place to see if any reactions occur. If your child does have a reaction, they’ll be treated promptly.
Elimination diets are exactly what they sound like. You eliminate a food that’s suspected to cause an allergic reaction or intolerance, such as dairy, eggs, or peanuts.
What to expect
First, you remove the suspected food from your child’s diet for two to three weeks and monitor for any symptoms.
Then, if your child’s allergist gives the go-ahead, you slowly and individually reintroduce each food, keeping an eye out for allergic reactions like changes in breathing, rashes, changes in bowel habits, or trouble sleeping.
Once your child has an allergy test, you may have questions. Here are a few frequently asked questions.
How accurate are test results?
Results can vary, depending on the test and specific allergy. Talk with your doctor to find out the reliability of each test.
Can you do more than one?
The type of suspected allergy will determine what kind of test is done. Sometimes more than one kind of test is done.
For instance, if a skin test is inconclusive or not easily performed, a blood test might be done, too. Keep in mind, some allergy tests are less sensitive than others.
What do results mean?
The meaning of the allergy test results depends on what test you do. If your child has a reaction to the food challenge test or elimination diet test, that’s a pretty clear indicator there’s an allergy to a food and they should stay away from it.
Blood tests aren’t as sensitive as skin tests, and can yield both false positives and false negatives.
Whatever allergy testing is done for your child, it’s important to place those results in the larger picture of the symptoms they’ve exhibited and their reactions to specific exposures. Taken together, that will help confirm any specific allergy diagnosis.
What comes next?
If it’s determined that your child has one or more allergies, the doctor will recommend a treatment plan. The specific plan can vary depending on the kind of allergy, but can include prescription or over-the-counter medications, allergy shots, or avoiding irritants, allergens, or foods.
If there are things your child should avoid, the allergist will provide ways to do so, and instructions on how to treat a reaction if your child mistakenly comes into contact with the allergen. For instance, you’ll be prescribed an injectable epinephrine pen if your child has a food allergy.
There are many different allergy tests for various kinds of allergies. If your child has been experiencing symptoms, talk with their pediatrician about seeing an allergist. They’re trained in identifying and treating allergies and will be able to help relieve symptoms and provide education and treatment.