Is your child allergic to anything? How sure are you? If you haven’t had them tested yet, then it should be high on your priority list. Here’s why.
What Are Allergies?
An “allergy” is caused by your body’s immune system; it is an over-reaction triggered by a certain substance. These substances are called allergens and include:
- Aero-allergens (such as pollen, grasses),
- Insect stings/ bites
Allergies can present in a number of ways and cause significant suffering – allergic rhinitis (hay fever), allergic asthma, eczema/ skin rashes, gastro-intestinal symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating, gastritis, diarrhoea) and life-threatening anaphylaxis are some of the most common conditions resulting from allergy. Studies have shown that allergies are very common in children – 6% had food allergies, 10% had asthma and 25% had hay fever in one such study.
So when should you take your child for allergy testing? Remember that doctors’ visits and tests are stressful! If allergy symptoms are easily controlled by anti-histamines and avoiding common triggers (even if you are not entirely sure what they are allergic to!) then it is not worth-while. If however your child has poorly controlled asthma/ eczema or has severe symptoms then it definitely is. Medication, diet modification and/ or immunotherapy allergy treatment can then also be used to treat your child if necessary.
1. Skin Testing:
This is done by an allergy specialist and involves pricking the skin with tiny extracts of the suspected allergens (pollen, dust mite, mould, and animal dander for example). It is done on the forearm or back and the doctor will measure the response by measuring the size of the weal/ hive produced at the skin prick sites. This method is very good for aeroallergens, but less so for food and mould allergy testing. Intradermal skin testing is done for bee, wasp and penicillin allergy- a tiny amount of very diluted allergen is injected and again the weal/hive is measured. There is a slight risk of serious anaphylaxis with skin testing which is why it needs to be done by a specialist.
2. Blood Tests:
These are expensive but can be used if skin testing is not an option (for example in patients with allergic dermatitis or those at high risk of anaphylaxis).
3. Patch Testing :
This is used to determine the cause of chronic allergic skin conditions (such as allergy to nickel in jewellery, chemicals in cosmetics) and some food and drug allergies. The allergen in placed under a plaster on the skin and taken off 48hrs later the skin is assessed for its reaction, and reassessed at 72 and 96hrs.
Be wary of unproven allergy testing- often used by alternative medical practitioners for food allergies- as these are not scientifically proven and can lead to confusion and incorrect diagnosis.
*Our resident doctor, Dr Russell Thomson, said that children can be allergy tested via skin test at any age.
Author: Dr Lynelle Hoeks
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