Allergy: getting tested

If you suspect that you or your child may have an allergy, you can use NHS services to get your allergy diagnosed. This may involve having one or more allergy tests.

An allergy test can establish whether you have an allergy and what you're allergic to.

"Knowing what you're allergic to is key to managing your condition," says Allergy UK's Lindsey McManus.

"If you have hay fever, you probably don't need allergy testing as it may be obvious from your symptoms that you're allergic to pollen. But it's important to find out the precise cause if your symptoms are more complicated.

"For example, perennial rhinitis [runny nose all year round] can be triggered by a variety of allergens, such as house dust mites and mould, or a food allergy could be triggered by one of a number of foods in your diet."

Allergy testing also has a role in monitoring a diagnosed allergy, says Lindsey. "Babies and children with an allergy, such as certain food allergies, often grow out of them.

"Regular testing can establish if the allergy has gone. It's helpful for the parents and the child to know that they no longer have an allergy to milk or eggs, for example, so that they no longer have to avoid that food."

NHS allergy testing

If you suspect an allergy, the first port of call is your GP. If, after discussing your symptoms, your GP thinks you may have an allergy, they may offer a blood test (formally known as a RAST test) to identify the cause of your allergy. 

Your GP may also refer you for testing. Most allergy tests are done in hospital outpatient clinics. Not every NHS hospital has an allergy clinic, so you may have to wait longer and travel further for testing in some parts of the country.

Find your local NHS allergy clinic.

At the allergy clinic, the type of test you're offered will depend on your symptoms. Possible tests include the following:

Skin prick test for allergens

A skin prick test is usually the first test to be done when looking for an allergen. It's quick, painless and safe, and you get the results within about 20 minutes. Your skin is pricked with a tiny amount of the suspected allergen to see if there's a reaction. If there is, the skin around the prick will very quickly become itchy and a red wheal (swollen mark) will appear.

Blood test for allergens

The blood test used to test for allergens is called a specific IgE test (formally known as the RAST test). It's used to measure the number of IgE antibodies in your blood that have been produced by your immune system in response to a suspected allergen.

Patch test for a skin reaction

The patch test is used to see if a skin reaction, for example eczema, is caused by contact with a specific chemical or substance. A small amount of the suspect substance or chemical, such as nickel, is added to special metal discs, which are taped to your skin for 48 hours and monitored for a reaction. This test is usually carried out at a dermatology (skin) department in a hospital.

Food challenge for food allergies

A food challenge, also called an oral challenge, is the most accurate way to diagnose a food allergy. During the test, you're given the food to which you think you are allergic in gradually increasing amounts to see how you react. Only one food can be tested at each appointment.

Commercial testing kits

Some commercial allergy testing kits, such as hair analysis tests, kinesiology tests and VEGA tests, are not recommended by doctors because there is little scientific evidence to support them.

Private allergy testing

If you choose to have private allergy testing, it's important to see a reputable, trained specialist.

However, if you are looking for a specialist, the Allergy UK helpline team can help you find your nearest NHS allergy clinic or consultant. The helpline number is 01322 619 898, and operates from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

The helpline team can also give advice on dealing with symptoms and on products that may be beneficial for sufferers. They have access to a panel of health experts for questions of a more complex medical nature.

Find out about treating allergies.

Page last reviewed: 12/01/2014

Next review due: 12/01/2016

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Comments

The 13 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

MariyaL said on 01 October 2013

Hi all my baby is 1 year old now , when she was 3 month old she had a rush in her cheeks , we went to see GP( dermatologist) who said it was eczema and prescribed steroid cream for my 3mont old baby, my husband and I were shocked, we didn't used the hydrocortisone , instead we used double base. Cream , when she was 5month the symptoms gone worth and now her body was covered in circular patches, the same doctor told us she had scabies! Scabies? I was angry at her , but used cream to destroy scabies
All this month I was begging GP for allergy testing and always had a reply there is no such a test as allergy testing.
My daughter now is 1 year and its been 10 days with now sleep for me , she is waking up at night screening cos her all body is itching, I went to see doctor at walking Centre as hoping that he could do something and a got same reply . Please sort out our GPs most of them are useless
I am angry and devastated that I be been fooled around for a year ...

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JudyfromAustralia said on 16 September 2011

A leading British public speaker said today in a talk in Australia, where I live, that the NHS used an allergy test that relies upon the unconscious. The allergy test involves the subject smelling a tiny amount of an unlabelled potential allergen, and the health practitioner then awaits a reaction in the subject's arm based on the unconscious recognition by the subject of the allergen.
Is this true?

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Marshall22 said on 22 August 2011

My eye lids swelled up and went red so I went to see my GP who said it was eczema and told me to buy steroid cream which I later found out can not be used on the face, the swelling got worse so I went to hospital, the doctor gave me antihistamine eye drops and sent me to my GP for a blood test, my GP told me they don't do blood tests and told me to come back in a month, I was mad but realised there's nothing I can do about it

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 28 April 2011

Dear bluepenny123,

The link seems to be working fine now.

http://www.bsaci.org/index.php?option=com_clinics&Itemid=26

Best wishes,

Kathryn Bingham, Live Well editor

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bluepenny123 said on 29 March 2011

Firstly the link on this page for 'local NHS allergy clinics' does not work. That doesn't suprise me either as they seem non- existent, well as far as the GPs are concerned.

My partner suffers from allergies but needs to determine what things trigger it, but GP won't help.

Also have a friend who has been bed ridden for some time. GP wouldn't help when they couldn't diagnose it. Out of frustration she researched it to find that it looked like an allergy to Wheat/Gluten. The GP refused to refer her for a test, so she went private spending about 200 pounds. It was confirmed she had an allergy to Gluten. She has since cut it out and she can walk again and function. She was bed ridden for a year thanks to that GP.

It says something about the system in this country, clearly GPs are not taking this seriously and refering people, why is this? Is it money I wonder.

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MariyaF said on 06 October 2010

Strange my GP refused to send me for allergy testing and I have known severe allergic reactions. How do I go about making them test me , my GP plays with fire all the time I am very worried that like last year they played god and I end up having surgery the allergy thing will end up bad. Please advice how to go about the allergy testing.Thank you

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rewleices said on 26 May 2009

The test you discribed is called 'patch testing' and is done here, as I've had to have it twice in less than 6 months. They don't give you a 'passport' as such, but I got information sheets on all the samples I reacted to, both alergic reactions and contact skin reactions. It isn't mentioned in this article because it focuses on food allergies and patch testing doesn't cover food stuffs.

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User207980 said on 18 March 2009

In Switzerland the local city hospital dermatology walk-in clinic had another test in addition to those mentioned here. As well as doing skin prick and blood tests they did a contact test where small amounts of substances were attached to skin on my back held in place by large plaster sheet. This had to be kept in place for around 48 hours, no baths nor showers. The number of substances tested was sufficient to cover the area from just below the shoulders to almost the waist. After this test I was told I was allergic to Scent Mix no. 2, Cobalt Chloride, Potassium Dichromate & Nickel Sulphate - constituents of many cosmetics, household & industrial substances, cleaning agents, plastics, paints, detergents, industrial processes ad infinitum. After this I was given an Allergy Passport detailing what I was allergic to. Neithe test nor allergy passport seem to be available here in UK?

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Allergy Dan said on 06 November 2008

I have heard of an inexpensive allergy test available in some pharmacies. It just requires a small finger-prick sample of blood and the results are available in 30 minutes - Having read the literature I believe it is most similar to the IgE test described above. Are these tests reliable, and are they available on the NHS?

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Anonymous said on 30 May 2008

Specific IgE testing is available from over 100 NHS hospital laboratories in the UK. There is a range of over 550 allergen avialable
All patients theoretically have access to this service via their GP

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Suzi said on 16 May 2008

Information on testing for all allergy types rather than just food related ones would've been helpful here.

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teresa said on 09 May 2008

Keith, try contacting your trading standards, I know somebody who bought a leather suite last year & ended up in hospital due to an allergic reaction. There are apparently court cases pending.

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Eleanor said on 31 March 2008

How much does it cost to have a full allergy test done by a doctor?

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