In order to diagnose a possible allergy, it's best to first visit your family doctor or general physician. Your doctor may then refer you to an allergologist, a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies.
The doctor will first want to know about your medical history. If you have a family member who has allergies, this may be of use as well. S/He will also ask you to outline the when and how of allergic reactions: under which circumstances and when do your allergic reactions occur? It is helpful to prepare yourself with this information before your appointment, and create both a list of family allergies as well as a list of possible triggers and reactions. Finally, your doctor might make a physical exam, as physicals can identify problems other than allergens that may be causing the same symptoms.
Additionally, your doctor may want to run several different tests or procedures in order to determine the allergen causing your reaction. This type of testing may be waived if you experience serious allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, are on certain types of medication that will interfere with the test (e.g. anti-depressants), or are currently experiencing an allergic reaction. Allergy testing cannot always make a definitive diagnosis, and will probably be used in conjunction with your medical history, and other information that your doctor thinks relevant. Tests and procedures used to diagnose an allergy include:
Blood test - When a skin test cannot be performed, a RAST (radioallergosorbent) test, may be ordered to search for elevated levels of a IgE antibodies for a specific allergen. Results may take several days to arrive, but there is no risk of an allergic reaction, as the laboratory looks for specific antibodies in the drawn blood.
Elimination diet test - When a food allergy is suspected, your doctor may recommend that you eliminate the suspect food for one or two weeks, and then reintroduce it into your diet. However, this test cannot be used for severe allergies, and is not foolproof, as some patients may have a psycho-somatic response just by thinking of exposure to the suspected allergen.
Skin tests - During a skin test, doctors prick, scratch, inject, or apply a patch containing suspected allergens to the skin. Results may appear within minutes or days, and will display themselves as red and swollen skin. They may resemble mosquito bites, and itch. Symptoms typically go away in a few hours or days. These tests carry the risk of developing a more severe allergic reaction, since the allergen enters the skin.
Once your doctor establishes a diagnosis, you are one step closer to beginning treatment. But what types of treatment options are currently available for allergy sufferers? Read on for more information about treatment options in our How to treat allergic reactions section now.