Don’t Waste Money on Food Allergy Tests (and What to Do Instead)
This happens to a lot of people: you start noticing a number of unpleasant symptoms and they seem to be related to your diet, so you start to wonder if you might have a food allergy . Fair enough – and it’s good that you’re paying attention to what your body is telling you.
If you’re worried you might have a food allergy, the obvious next step is to see an allergist and get tested, which isn’t cheap. Allergy testing can cost thousands of dollars depending on a variety of factors and is not always covered by health insurance. So it’s a good idea to be reasonably sure that an allergist is the right next step for you.
Forget about home tests
First of all, don’t bother with over-the-counter homemade food sensitivity tests . They aren’t exactly cheap either, ranging from $100 to $250, and are mostly useless . In fact, they can cause more problems than anything else as they can cause foods that don’t really cause you any problems, prompting you to make unnecessary changes to your diet.
Difference Between Allergy and Sensitivity
A food allergy is a specific immune response: you are literally allergic to what you eat. The term “food sensitivity” is often used interchangeably, but this is incorrect . Food allergies are caused by your immune system whereas food sensitivities are caused by your digestive system not being able to properly process or tolerate something in your diet. Although “food sensitivity” exists, it is poorly defined . Worse, people who think they have food sensitivities often try to eliminate suspicious foods from their diet, which leads to poor nutrition and other dietary problems.
The first sign that you’re dealing with a food allergy, and not just the result of a malnutrition or sensitivity problem, is the symptoms you’re experiencing. Food allergy symptoms develop almost immediately after eating the problem food you are allergic to. These symptoms may include
- itchy mouth
- skin rash or hives
- swelling of the face or mouth
- swallowing problems
- labored breathing
- abdominal pain
You may also have a much more serious reaction called anaphylaxis. This is manifested by the same symptoms, but to a much greater extent. If an allergic reaction results in extreme symptoms (or something worse, like passing out), go to the emergency room right away.
If you’re not experiencing any of these symptoms, chances are you’re not dealing with a food allergy. While food intolerances can cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, fatigue, constipation, or diarrhea, symptoms usually take much longer to appear because the food must enter your digestive tract before it causes a reaction. This does not mean that you should ignore the discomfort you feel – consult your doctor and review your diet.
When to see an allergist
If you’re constantly experiencing food allergy symptoms, and if you’ve been trying to identify and eliminate the problematic food to no avail, and if you’ve been trying to manage specific symptoms with over-the-counter remedies to no avail, it’s time to make an appointment with an allergist.
They will ask you a series of specific questions to get a clear picture of your diet and your symptoms, and may run a skin or blood allergy test , which is much more accurate than anything you can buy at a pharmacy. It is important to note that even these tests are not magical and only serve to point the allergist in the right direction. It is the combination of clinical data from a skin or blood test, and the training and experience of an allergist, that will help you figure out what is causing the allergic reactions that make you unhappy.