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Phone: 718-816-8200

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Allergy Testing in Children and Infants

Few young people like getting a test or going to the doctor. When an allergy is suspected in a child, both of these stressful tasks are combined and can cause quite a bit of dreadfor parents and children alike.

Knowing what to expect when you take your child for an allergy test may lessen appointment-day anxiety. Below is information about the common methods allergists use to test infants and children for allergies. Use it as a reference to prepare youngsters for a visit to the allergist.

When to Schedule an Allergy Test?

Allergies in infants and children are common. In fact, allergy-related disorders are among the leading chronic diseases diagnosed in children. According to one study, 4 percent to 6 percent of children have food allergies, 8 percent to 10 percent have asthma, and 15 percent to 25 percent have allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Children with allergies miss hundreds of thousands of school days every year.

For infants and children experiencing the following symptoms or conditions, an allergy test may determine if the problem is caused by specific allergens:
  • Rhinitis
  • Asthma
  • Food, insect sting, or medication reaction
  • Skin rashes (atopic dermatitis or eczema)
Other indicators of an allergy can be cold-like symptoms that last for more than a week and occur around the same time every year, as well as coughing and wheezing, especially at night, which might be allergic asthma caused by an indoor allergen.

What Allergy Testing Methods Are Used?

Parents and caretakers who suspect that a child has an allergy can come in for a consultation. The diagnostic process, which usually takes place in the allergists office, typically involves taking the childs detailed medical history and the family history of allergy or asthma, a physical exam, and allergy sensitivity testing.

Skin tests. Immediate-type hypersensitivity skin tests are useful for detecting allergies to airborne particles, foods, insect stings, penicillin, and other substances. Here are the most common, least expensive types of allergy tests used for allergy testing in children:

Percutaneous and intradermal skin tests. Skin tests are administered by applying a diluted allergen to a prick or a scratch in the top layer of the skin (the percutaneous method) or by using a 26- to 30-gauge needle to inject the diluted allergen into the skin (the intradermal method). Both are considered extremely safe and relatively accurate. Percutaneous skin testing is rarely conducted on infants younger than 6 months old, but there is otherwise no age limit.

The accuracy of both tests can be undermined if children are on certain medications such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and high-dose, long-term steroids so the use of these drugs should be curtailed well before appointment day. Asthma medications or short bursts of oral steroids will not affect the results. According to the National Heart Blood and Lung Institute, selected patients with asthma should undergo skin or blood allergy tests to better understand how allergens are affecting their disease and learn how to avoid specific substances, such as dust mites or pet dander, that worsen symptoms.

After either type of test is administered, the area of the skin is observed for about 15 minutes to see if a reaction flare develops. A wheala raised, red, itchy bumpindicates the presence of the allergy antibody when the child comes in contact with specific allergens. The larger the wheal is, the greater the sensitivity.

Blood (in vitro) tests. Another way to perform allergy testing in children is through a blood test, such as a radio allergosorbent test, which is used when skin tests are hard to administer (for instance, if the child is unable to stop taking medication that would obscure the wheal and flare results). This and other similar tests may be less sensitive than skin tests for detecting food allergies, but samer in some situations.

Elimination diet tests. For children with suspected food allergies, we may recommend a week-long diet that eliminates and isolates certain foods suspected of causing a reaction. Common culprits for food allergies are milk, soy, eggs, peanut, wheat, tree nuts, or shellfish. The downside to this approach is that such diets may be hard for children and parents to follow. They also may produce inaccurate or unclear results because of the many foods allergens disguised in packaged and processed foods.

For young children, an allergy test can be a little scary, but helping them understand what to expect can go a long way to reducing their fears.