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An at-home allergy test is not a good substitute for an in-office skin test. But it’s an option that may be helpful short-term before you’re able to talk with a specialist.

Allergies affect a lot of people — more than 50 million in the United States alone, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Understanding what triggers a reaction is the first step in properly managing your allergy. But can you do that with an at-home allergy test?

It’s important to understand that an at-home allergy test isn’t a substitute for an appointment with a qualified healthcare professional. However, if you can’t see one in person, a home allergy test may be a good short-term option. But that’s only true in certain cases.

Here’s what to understand about at-home allergy tests, including when they can be useful and when they’re probably a waste of money.

An at-home allergy test is just what it sounds like — a test you can complete at home to learn more about potential allergy triggers, such as foods or environmental allergens like pollen and pet dander.

Depending on the type of at-home allergy test you buy, the process can vary. Some tests require a blood draw at a nearby lab after you purchase the kit. Then, you’ll receive an email with a link to download your results.

Other at-home allergy tests take a more DIY approach. Instead of having blood drawn at a lab or clinic, you’ll receive a kit in the mail with all the tools and directions necessary to take a sample. Then, you return your sample in a prepaid envelope and wait for the results.

These tests are designed to be convenient and easy to use. However, since the analysis isn’t as complete as what you’d get from a doctor or allergist, the results you receive aren’t as thorough. And as we’ve explained here, they can be inaccurate or misleading.

It may be helpful to understand what differentiates at-home allergy tests from testing at an allergist’s office.

At-home test kits

Most at-home allergy tests use a small blood sample. When you order a kit, you’ll receive everything you need to take the sample.

After pricking your finger with the included lancet, you’ll squeeze a few drops of blood onto the collection card provided before mailing it back to the test company. Kits include detailed directions and all the materials you need.

After you send in your sample or have your blood drawn, it will be tested at a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-certified lab. This certification indicates that the lab has met standards for state and federal certification and is regularly inspected to ensure compliance. Tests are also reviewed and approved by board certified physicians.

Companies that provide these at-home allergy tests should also be compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), so you can be sure your test results are securely stored.

An allergist’s test

When you visit an allergist to diagnose an allergy, you’ll go over your medical history and any symptoms you’ve been experiencing.

You can expect to answer questions about your environment, lifestyle, and any history of allergies both personally or in your family.

Though a detailed discussion of allergic reactions with an allergist is the first step in identifying food allergies, skin and blood testing can also be helpful to clarify and confirm suspected food allergies. These tests offer a more personalized, in-depth view than at-home tests.

Allergists use several different types of analyses. Typically, these include skin prick testing or an IgE blood test.

Skin prick tests can identify various potential allergens, including airborne, contact, and food-based. There are three kinds:

  • scratch
  • intradermal
  • patch

An allergist may also test you for any type of allergy by exposing you to a small amount of a particular allergen and recording your body’s reaction.

Blood tests are performed in the event you may have a serious allergic reaction to a skin test, or if you’re unable to perform a skin test. A blood sample is taken and tested in a lab for the presence of antibodies.

Skin testing is typically used to clarify which environmental allergens (pollens, dust mite, animals, or molds) may be triggering your symptoms. Blood testing for immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies can also similarly identify which environmental allergens are a problem for you.

IgE is usually present in small amounts in the blood, but elevated levels can be a sign that the body is overreacting to specific allergens.

In both cases, your allergist will be able to explain your results and next steps.

One thing to keep in mind: Before going into your appointment, you may also be asked to stop certain medications, including antihistamines, some heartburn medications, and others, which could interfere with your test results.

The type of allergy symptoms you are experiencing — and the type of allergens you and your doctor are concerned about — will help determine which type of tests are appropriate for you. Allergens can be classified into three groups:

  • Inhaled allergens come into the body via the lungs or the membranes in the throat or nostrils. Pollen is a good example.
  • Ingested allergens are those found in foods such as seafood, soy, or peanuts.
  • Contact allergens produce a reaction through direct contact with the skin. For example, poison ivy can trigger an allergic reaction in the form of an itchy rash. Similarly, some products like creams, soaps, or even jewelry could also trigger this reaction, even if you’ve used a product for years.

More about ingested allergens

If you’re concerned that food could be triggering your symptoms, your doctor may order a skin test and blood test for IgE antibodies. These tests can help determine what kinds of allergies are causing severe, immediate reactions, like hives, vomiting, or breathing problems.

However, if you experience food-related allergy symptoms that are not this severe or immediate, these tests are unlikely to pick up on the foods that are causing your symptoms. These tests also tend to be overly sensitive to food allergies, meaning that the tests may pick up more food allergens than are relevant to you. That’s why it’s important to work with a doctor to determine which foods should be tested, and whether testing will be helpful for you.

There’s a difference between being allergic to a food and being intolerant to it. True food allergies trigger the immune system, which causes your body to react.

With a food intolerance, which is more common than a food allergy, your body’s digestive system is triggered. Food intolerances are caused by the body’s inability to properly process a food.

While food intolerances aren’t typically dangerous, certain food allergic reactions may require immediate medical treatment.

The body will react differently to a food allergy than it will to a food intolerance. Symptoms of a food allergy can include:

Allergy tests (skin tests and IgE blood tests) can often help clarify which foods may be causing these types of symptoms. There are some types of food allergies (where the immune system triggers the food reaction) that manifest with more nonspecific types of symptoms, such as delayed vomiting, difficulty swallowing, or stomach aches.

Symptoms of a food intolerance can include:

For these types of symptoms, skin tests and IgE blood tests may not help figure out what’s causing your symptoms. There are some tests that may help clarify food triggers, but these are specific to the type of food intolerance suspected.

In other words, doing a panel of food tests is unlikely to help determine the food triggers. For example, breath tests can be useful for suspected lactose intolerance. An allergist can help you figure out which tests would be most beneficial for you.

Finally, there are certain types of food allergies and intolerances where the diagnosis is based on symptoms and dietary history alone. In these cases, the diagnosis is only confirmed by avoiding the food for short periods (1-2 weeks), followed by adding the food back to diet. Which, if any, trial food eliminations may be necessary should be discussed with a physician.

Common culprits

The most common food allergies include:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • wheat
  • soybeans
  • sesame

Common food intolerances include:

  • dairy
  • gluten
  • caffeine

It’s important to understand that none of the food intolerances listed above can be diagnosed with an at-home intolerance test. If you suspect that dairy, gluten, or caffeine may be triggering symptoms, an at-home test won’t be able to diagnose it. Even worse, you may end up with misleading results.

Some at-home allergy tests claim to be able to diagnose food sensitivities through the food immunoglobulin G (IgG) test. This test shows results for typically 90 to 100 foods that you may be intolerant to, and recommend removing these foods from your diet to improve multiple symptoms. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAI) states that these tests have never been scientifically proven to be able to accomplish what it reports to do.

IgE panel testing for foods is controversial. It’s rarely recommended by allergy societies, especially when done without a proper and thorough medical history of the patient. In those cases, it’s common that 50% to 90% of IgE results without a proper reading can be incorrectly identified.

There are advantages and drawbacks to completing an IgE allergy blood test at home.

Pros

  • convenient

Cons

  • IgE testing to foods may diagnose food allergies or intolerances you don’t have because of the high risk of false positives
  • both IgE and IgG testing may miss relevant allergies and intolerances
  • food IgE and IgG tests can’t diagnose common intolerances like lactose or FODMAP, nor can they detect potentially serious food-induced conditions like celiac disease
  • high price point
  • some tests still involve a visit to a lab
  • tests are not regulated
  • don’t provide treatment plans for potential intolerances or allergies

An at-home allergy test may be worth the money if you’re testing for environmental allergens. In that case, “at-home IgE testing can be helpful in identifying relevant allergens,” said Healthline medical reviewer Elizabeth Feuille, MD.

But when it comes to suspected food allergies, the answer is short and sweet: No. That’s because:

Indiscriminate food allergy testing using panel testing is rarely useful

“The testing is not a measure of how allergic you are to a food,” said Feuille. “It is simply a measure of how much allergy antibody you produce to a food.”

Since it’s common for people to make allergy antibodies to a food without actually having a true allergy, you may end up with results that show you’re allergic when you actually tolerate them without symptoms or consequences.

IgE-mediated food allergy tests only evaluate IgE-mediated allergies

This kind of allergy is associated with symptoms like hives, vomiting, and breathing problems. “If you suspect you may have any other type of food allergy or food intolerance (for example, celiac disease or lactose intolerance, among many other types of food-induced syndromes), this testing will not identify foods that are causing your symptoms,” said Feuille

Food allergy panel testing can actually cause significant harm

Parents may mistakenly assume that they need to eliminate culprit foods from a child’s diet based on indiscriminate food panel testing.

“In some cases, this can result in significant dietary limitations and malnutrition,” said Feuille. “At-home food panels should never be used to guide an elimination diet for a child.”

The same is true for adults, who can also develop nutrition issues from excessive dietary limitations. But the risk is greater for children, who are vulnerable to malnutrition.

Something else to keep in mind: Studies have shown that avoiding certain foods, like peanuts or eggs, in children who make allergy antibodies to these foods can actually significantly increase the risk of developing a true allergy to these foods. In other words, the effort of eliminating a suspected allergen actually creates the allergy.

A severe allergic reaction may cause these symptoms:

If you experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away.

If your symptoms are mild but persistent, you may want to visit a specialist. For example, a dermatologist may be the best option if your reaction is affecting your skin.

An allergist is a good choice if your symptoms include nasal congestion or ongoing sinus infections, or if you notice allergy symptoms during certain times of the year. Allergists also manage skin conditions like rashes and hives that occur due to allergic reactions.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, visit your primary care physician for an initial diagnosis.

Still interested?

If you are still interested in taking an at-home allergy test, check out the product information below, and make sure to check with an allergist when you receive your results so you don’t misinterpret them.

Best overall

Everlywell Indoor & Outdoor Allergy Test

  • Price: $199
  • Test type: environmental
  • Sample type: finger prick
  • Results in: several days to several weeks
  • Pros: easy to use, wide range of allergens tested, good reviews
  • Cons: unspecified timeframe for results, and some reviewers report it took several weeks

Everlywell’s Indoor & Outdoor Allergy Test measures IgE reactivity to 40 common allergens. It’s a good option if you need help narrowing potential causes of ongoing symptoms, like an itchy throat, watery eyes, postnasal drip, sneezing, rashes, and headaches.

Test results report your IgE reactivity from very low to very high, along with advice about next steps. The kit comes with all the materials needed for the pinprick sample collection, detailed directions, and customer service if you need help.

Lab results come from CLIA-certified labs and are physician reviewed. The test has an overall 4.5-star rating on Everlywell’s site.

NOTE: Healthline chose this test from Everlywell because — compared with other products that emphasize testing on immunoglobulins that have no relevance to allergies — Everlywell tests IgEs. The blood sample that is collected, along with ELISA technology, allows this at-home test to pick up antibody levels. However, the gold standard for the best personalized results for allergies is to visit a certified allergist.

Comes with an allergist consultation

Cleared Indoor & Outdoor Allergy Tests

  • Price: $199
  • Test type: environmental
  • Sample type: finger prick
  • Results in: 5 business days after the lab receives your sample
  • Pros: easy to use, tests for 40 common allergens, includes free allergist consultation with results
  • Cons: not covered by insurance, no reviews

Like Everlywell, Cleared’s indoor and outdoor allergy tests use a finger prick sample to test for 40 common allergy triggers. The results from this test could shed light on potential environmental allergies, if you’re experiencing symptoms like watery eyes, sneezing, rashes, or an itchy, stuff nose.

The CLIA certified allergy test kit includes all the supplies you need to take a blood sample, including a prepaid shipping envelope to send back to a lab for testing. Results are typically available 5 business days after the lab receives your sample.

Included with the test is a free allergist consultation, so you can receive recommendations on prescription treatment options.

Are at-home allergy tests accurate?

The analysis you’ll get from an at-home allergy test won’t be as thorough or complete as what you would get from a doctor or allergist.

While at-home allergy tests may offer some insight into environmental allergens, they’re not a good option for suspected food allergies. That’s because indiscriminate food allergy testing rarely provides useful information.

What’s more, IgE-mediated food allergy tests only test for IgE-mediated allergies, so they won’t identify other types of food allergies or intolerances, such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance.

Finally, keep in mind that results from both IgE and IgG testing can be inaccurate or misleading. Your best option for a suspected allergy is to speak with a qualified healthcare professional.

Does insurance cover at-home allergy tests?

In most cases, insurance will not cover the cost of at-home allergy tests. At this time, that’s the case for the at-home allergy test we recommend.

What is the most accurate way to test for allergies?

A visit to your doctor or allergist is the most accurate way to test for allergies. That’s because your healthcare practitioner will offer a more thorough approach to testing, including asking about your symptoms and performing a physical exam. Based on these assessments, your doctor can decide which test is appropriate. That could be a skin prick test or blood test.

Like the at-home allergy test, a doctor’s blood test will look for the presence of IgE antibodies.

A skin test can be performed with a referral to an allergist. This test is performed by pricking or scratching the skin with small needles to document your skin’s reaction to potential allergens.

Can you test negative for allergies and still have them?

Yes. Since many tests look for the most common kinds of allergens, it’s possible to have an allergy to something that doesn’t show up on a blood test.

Keep in mind that IgE testing can only identify IgE-mediated allergies, and there are a number of food-induced conditions that fall outside that scope. At this time, IgE tests do not diagnose or exclude any condition and are really only a measure of exposure to a specific food.

What does a positive allergy test look like?

It depends on the test. At-home allergy test results are designed to be easy to interpret and typically indicate your reactivity to various allergens, using a color or number scale.

It’s a good idea to speak with an allergist about your results, especially if you have questions about next steps.

Many healthcare professionals consider at-home allergy tests unreliable. The worst-case scenario is interpreting the results on your own and then taking steps to address an allergy that may not be warranted.

In the best case, an at-home allergy test that’s specific to environmental allergies could provide information that may be useful in highlighting how your body reacts to certain allergens. But at-home allergy tests aren’t a good choice if you suspect food allergies or intolerances.

It’s always best to consult a healthcare professional about allergies, and that’s still true if you decide that an at-home allergy test is your best option.

Ask a doctor for advice on any tests you may be considering, and discuss results with a board certified allergist.