Diagnosing allergic disease can take a bit of detective work. Often, the obvious is not necessarily the answer. For that reason, we take the time to learn as much as we can about our patients to make sure we make the right diagnosis.
For every new patient, we ask detailed questions about:
- symptoms and when they occur
- prior illness
- home and work environments
- circumstances that may trigger reactions
Then, we determine which medical tests are appropriate, including allergy skin or blood testing, lung functions tests, CT scans, and other tests.
We suggest that most patients exhibiting allergy-like symptoms, such as sneezing, nasal congestion, cough, itching, eczema, hives and asthma, undergo allergy testing. This helps determine the best course of treatment and strategies for eliminating triggers, improving the environment or changing behaviors to reduce symptoms.
- Skin Tests: A quick and painless skin test will give us answers in 20 minutes. The doctor uses a small piece of plastic with a sharp point to prick the skin with allergen extracts. If the site of the prick reacts with redness, itchiness and swelling, the patient is considered allergic. The size and severity of the reaction help the allergist know how allergic the patient is. While blood tests can also be used, skin tests are faster, less costly and more accurate.
- Patch Tests: To determine if a patient is experiencing skin reactions due to contact allergens, such as chemicals in cosmetics, fragrances, detergents and other products, we use patch tests. We place two adhesive strips impregnated with 24 chemicals on the patient's back. The patient must return to the office 48 and 72 hours after the patches are placed on the skin to determine if any reactions occurred.
- RAST Tests: These blood test determine if a patient has developed antibodies to environmental or food allergens. We most often rely on these when a patient cannot undergo a skin test, due to medications or skin conditions.
- Other Blood Tests: The doctor may order other blood tests to determine if there is another reason for a patient's reactions. For example, hives can be caused by viral infections, thyroid disease and other reasons.
- Lung Function Tests: Patients experiencing difficulty breathing will be asked to blow into a machine that measure their lung capacity and flow rate. This helps the doctor determine if the patient has asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.
- CT Scans: If a patient has experienced chronic sinus problems, such as infections and/or headaches, a CT scan can show if the patient has a chronic infection, polyps or other sinus disease.