Thursday, March 24, 2011

Scratching The Surface-Getting Your Child Tested For Allergies

Allergies, it's something we as parents begin to think about, the moment we find out we're expecting.  We've heard and read about all the warnings..."Honey can harbor poisonous botulism spores", "do not feed egg whites to your baby before the age of one", "don't eat peanut butter while your pregnant", "owning a pet will decrease your child's chances of developing animal allergies"....the list is ongoing and the "rules" can often become very confusing. 
It's impossible to cover all the information surrounding allergies and allergy testing in a single blog post, so today I'll basically "scratch the surface" in regards to allergy testing.  Specifically, the skin scratch method.

In this previous post, I discussed the fact that Opal suffers horribly from a slew of environmental allergies.  Last summer, I found him in the kitchen, scratching his tongue with a fork!  Yikes!  I knew then, it was time to request a formal allergy panel test.  After researching which allergist I would like Opal to see, I approached our family doctor for a referral.  Researching your specialist may seem foreign to some but I feel it is a necessary part of making an informed health care decision.  Here in Canada we have this little website called Rate My MD,  I'm not sure how accurate it is, but I think it's interesting to see how others view specific physicians.  In our province, it's nearly impossible to request which family physician you want.  In fact, most consider themselves lucky if they have a family physician.  However, you can request  a referral to any specialist! Keep in mind this may affect your wait time.  Anyway, after listening to personal stories, talking to other health professionals and doing a little homework, we decided to drive 1 1/2 hour north to see a highly regarded allergist by the name of Dr. Hummel. 

So Crystal, explain what allergy testing is!
Well guys, there are two methods to test for an allergy~the skin prick test or a blood test.  Opal had a skin prick aka skin scratch testing.  The best part about this method ~ NO NEEDLES were involved!
Here's how it all went down in the office...

  • We briefly discussed Opal's allergy history and types of reactions
  • The doctor wipes his back with a alcohol swab
  • The allergy panel is a metal plate with several rounded prongs.  The doctor applies the protein, of the allergens in question, to several of the prongs and then gently presses it against his back.  He sections off the back into categories (food, animals, shellfish, trees, household allergens..) by marking his back with a pen.  
  • He then slightly scratches the surface of the skin with a "little pricker" (not sure what the technical term for it is)  Anyway, not once did Opal jump, squirm, or squeal.  In fact, at one point he said, "that tickles"
  • Next, Opal gets to draw a picture for 15 minutes while we wait for the results.
What is the allergist looking for in a "positive" result? (*Note-There is a high rate of false positive results when performing the skin prick test.  People with eczema or sensitive skin should be especially cautious as both can cause positive test results when there is no allergy. Skin prick results should be considered along with history of reaction and possibly blood testing)  If there is little or no skin reaction then the result is deemed negative.  The allergist observes the area for hives and welts.  He documents the size of the welt for future referencing.  In some instances, the skin prick test can cause a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, but this is highly unlikely with this method of testing.   
Within seconds, Opal's back became EXTREMELY itchy and as suspected welts began to form.  I wish I had taken a picture with my cell phone but I figured the doctor would have instantly pegged me as a "neurotic mother".  When the testing was finished he applied a thin layer of cream (darn I didn't ask what it was but I'm assuming it was possibly a topical antihistamine)

So what is Opal allergic to?  A better question would be, what isn't Opal allergic to?
Homework, early bedtimes, green vegetables and his siblings!!!  Oh wait, that's what he told his teacher he was allergic to the day after the test was done!  
What did the test actually reveal?  Well friends, my poor sensitive little baby boy has severe allergies to trees, grass, horses, cats, dogs, dust mites, shell fish and quite possibly some fresh fruit!    

Why would I want to share this personal experience on my blog?  Well, we've kinda gotten close over the past 11 months and I'm pretty much an open book at this point!  Actually,  it's my hope that, by sharing our personal experience with allergy testing, you'll be better informed and less anxious if your child has to be tested for allergies.     
Do you have any questions in regards to allergies or allergy testing?  Again, I'm a practicing Registered Nurse but most importantly a MOM of 3 Precious Jewels,  no question is ever too silly to ask!  So fire away!  

***Important Medical Disclaimer***
The contents and information on this blog is  for your informational use only.  My blog posts provide general health and parenting information.  This information is not to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical condition.  Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.