When you have allergies, the best thing you can do for yourself is to avoid your triggers. But first, you have to find out what your triggers are. Sure, if you start sneezing and rubbing your itchy eyes every time you come into contact with your sister's cat, you probably already know cats are a trigger.
But what if you go outside in the late summer and start having those allergy symptoms? Is it the ragweed that's in bloom everywhere that's causing them? Or maybe the leaves that are starting to fall from the neighbor's maple tree? Or even the moist soil in your garden?
The thing is, allergy triggers in the form of pollen and mold spores can be found in all of those environments. So how can you know which one you are allergic to?
The best way to know is to get tested. Allergy testing, or skin testing, measures how you react to specific triggers known as allergens. Examples of allergens that can be tested for are tree pollen, pet dander, foods, medications or molds. When you test positive for something, it means that you have a specific allergic antibody to the substance that was tested.
However, it's important to understand that testing positive doesn't mean you actually DO have an allergy to that substance. So, allergy testing must be done by an allergist who can interpret the results and figure out how best to treat you.
Allergy testing is done with a puncture or scratch method, where a drop of liquid containing the allergen is placed on your skin. It's not painful and there shouldn't be any bleeding. Many different substances can be tested at once, all on different spots on your skin.
After about 15 minutes, the allergist will "read" the skin to see if you had any reaction. A positive result will be a raised, red itchy bump, that looks and feels a lot like a mosquito bite. Further testing may be needed to be certain.
Another type of allergy test is something called a RAST test. This is a blood test that can measure specific allergic antibodies in your blood. It is more useful in detecting food allergies than other types, can take weeks to get results, and is also expensive, so it's not used as much as skin testing.
Skin testing is relatively inexpensive and it's perfectly safe, when performed by an allergist. If you are interested in learning more about allergy skin testing, be sure to talk with your doctor. You can also learn more about it from this brochure from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: Tips to Remember: What is allergy testing?