What Is Skin Testing for Allergies?

What is skin testing for allergies?
Julia

The most common way to test for allergies is on the skin, usually the forearm or the back. In a typical skin test, a doctor or nurse will place a tiny bit of an allergen (such as pollen or food) on the skin, then make a small scratch or prick on the skin.

The allergist may repeat this, testing for several allergens in one visit. This can be a little uncomfortable, but not painful.

If your child reacts to one of the allergens, the skin will swell a little in that area. The doctor will be able to see if a reaction occurs within about 15 minutes. The swelling usually goes down within about 30 minutes to a few hours. Other types of skin testing include injecting allergens into the skin or taping allergens to the skin for 48 hours.

With a skin test, an allergist can check for these kinds of allergies:

  • environmental, such as mold, pet dander, or tree pollen
  • food, such as peanuts or eggs
  • medications, such as penicillin

Some medications (such as antihistamines) can interfere with skin testing, so check with the doctor to see if your child’s medications need to be stopped before the test is done. While skin testing is useful and helpful, sometimes additional tests (like blood tests or food challenges) also must be done to see if a child is truly allergic to something.

While skin tests are usually well tolerated, in rare instances they can cause a more serious allergic reaction. This is why skin testing must always be done in an allergist’s office, where the doctor is prepared to handle a reaction.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: May 2012