Allergy

Updated 01 June 2017

Allergy tests: doctor vs. DIY

DIY (do it yourself) allergy tests are becoming better at identify allergies, but professionals maintain that symptoms should rather be interpreted by a doctor.

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A good meal should never be followed by any unpleasant or unusual physical symptoms.  But if this is your post-mealtime reality, you might be suffering from an allergy.

According to the South African Medical Journal, between two and five percent of South Africans suffer from food allergies. Fortunately there are a number of ways to determine if you fall into that category.

Read: Diagnosing allergies

Allergy tests done by a doctor

Prof Jonathan Peter, head of the Allergology and Clinical Immunology division at UCT’s Department of Medicine, says that patients who suspect they have allergies should have a doctor or allergy specialist interpret their symptoms. “It is helpful to be prepared before the appointment and keep a food and symptom diary to take to the doctor to ensure you get the most out of your appointment,” he says.

There are two types of allergy tests that a doctor can perform: 

1.       A skin prick test involves exposing the skin to a drop of preparation of a particular food protein and carefully monitoring the skin for any signs of an allergic reaction.

 2.       A blood test can be done to help diagnose an IgE-mediated food allergy. IgE stands for Immunoglobulin E and is a type of antibody produced by the immune system when your body reacts to an allergen.

Blood tests can show if there are any antibodies against a food protein in the blood.

Read: Risk factors for allergies

Sasha Watkins, dietitian and director of EATFIT, says that a food challenge and an elimination diet can also be used to identify allergies.

“During a food challenge, small amounts of the allergen are given to the patient at fixed time points. If no reaction is seen, a larger dose of the allergen-containing food is then eaten,” she explains.  An elimination diet simply involves completely removing certain foods from your diet for a few weeks to see if symptoms improve, but it should be done under proper dietetic supervision.

Allergy tests at home

The popularity of home allergy tests has increased over the last few years. Although these tests can help explain some allergic symptoms, they have not been proven to be completely accurate. They should therefore be combined with an allergy test done by a doctor to ensure the correct diagnosis of your symptoms.

Here are some Android and IPhone apps that you can use to better understand allergies:

1.       “Allergies and How to Cure Them” is actually an audiobook that will help you learn more about allergies, symptoms, and treatments.

2.       “AllergyEats” rates restaurants according to their ability or willingness to accommodate specific allergies. Each restaurant rating is categorised according to specific food allergies like peanuts, milk, or gluten.

3.       “AllergyManager” allows you to track seasonal allergens, pollen counts, and the severity of your symptoms.

Risks of wrong diagnosis

“Intolerances are often confused with allergies, and their medical management is different,” Watkins says.  Many individuals follow unnecessary elimination diets because they mistakenly believe they have a food allergy.

Prof Peter says that besides the social drawbacks of not being able to eat certain foods, the misdiagnosis of symptoms can put a person at risk of nutritional inadequacies. In the worst case scenario, the misdiagnosis of food allergies may put a person at risk of anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.

Read More:

So you think you have a food allergy?

Make your bedroom allergy safe

New tactic to tackle peanut allergies

 

Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies. obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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