Have you thought of trying an at-home allergy test to see why you are reacting to certain things? At-home tests promise to detect allergies to common things, such as pollen, eggs, wheat, milk, and fish. Even though it may sound highly convenient, it's essential to evaluate whether they are accurate and worth it.
Any allergy testing, whether over-the-counter or performed professionally, may be inaccurate and provide false positive results.
Your symptoms might result from a food intolerance rather than a true food allergy.
Despite the convenience of at-home allergy tests, the majority of them cannot accurately diagnose many environmental or food allergies.
At-home allergy tests cannot replace a licensed allergist's evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.
Are at-home allergy tests reliable?
No, at-home allergy tests are not as trustworthy as those completed with a doctor's evaluation. These allergy test kits involve taking a pinprick sample of your own blood, hair, or urine.
The samples are then sent to an approved laboratory for analysis. The laboratory is typically called a CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988) facility that follows federal standards and regulations.
The at-home allergy tests are reviewed and approved by physicians. They are also compliant with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), so you can be assured of privacy.
Despite all of these measures, the allergy tests completed at home are still not reliable since they fail to provide a complete picture of your allergies and can be easily contaminated.
Factors affecting allergy test results
All allergy tests, including the at-home allergy testing kits may be subject to inaccurate results if the samples are contaminated by cologne, scented body lotion, or hair spray.
Additionally, taking certain medications can also affect the accuracy of allergy testing and present misleading results. Therefore, whether completing an allergy test at home or going to a doctor, you will be recommended to abstain from taking the following medications for one week before the allergy test:
- Antihistamines (oral or nasal spray).
- Anti-reflux medications known as H-1 blockers.
- Tricyclic antidepressant medications.
- Anti-hypertensive medications known as beta-blockers.
Unfortunately, many people using at-home allergy tests are not aware of these factors and can receive misleading allergy testing results.
How do most at-home allergy tests work?
|Allergy test type||How it works?||Mostly used for|
|Blood||Checks your blood for increased levels of immunoglobulin E antibodies.||Environmental allergies (dust mites, pollen, molds, etc.)|
|Hair||Checks for minerals in foods.||Food allergies, but effectiveness is unproven scientifically.|
|Urine||A urine histamine test is a useful indicator of mast cell activation.||Useful in confirming that a person has had an anaphylactic reaction. Also, may indicate the presence or severity of some food allergies.|
Most at-home allergy tests measure for inhalant allergies and food allergies to common items such as milk, eggs, wheat, fish, and pollens. The most widely used allergy tests are the skin pinprick which obtains a small blood sample. The drop of blood is placed on a cardboard card which is mailed to the laboratory. The results are either sent electronically or by mail. The test results include an assessment of 50 to 100 allergens including common pollens, molds, insect stings, dog and cat dander, trees, grasses, and foods.
Although over-the-counter allergy testing may provide results that may indicate you have certain allergies, these results are difficult to interpret. These tests should never replace seeing a licensed physician who can take your medical history and examination into account. Especially since some reactions to allergens may be variable at different times and not match the test results.
Drawbacks of at-home allergy tests
Even though finding out whether you have certain allergies without leaving your house might sound tempting, at-home allergy tests have a few substantial drawbacks.
Test results may be inaccurate
While the science behind the testing is similar to professional testing, there are many varieties of tests with varying degrees of quality. Testing methods are not uniform. Many over-the-counter allergy tests do not truly reveal whether the person is allergic to a specific allergen or food. Therefore, without professional medical evaluation, you might come to misleading conclusions about your health.
Misdiagnosis of food intolerances
Unfortunately, at-home allergy tests may misdiagnose and this is especially true for sensitivity to foods. Many people experience discomfort from eating or drinking certain foods or beverages, but they have a food intolerance, not an allergy. Misdiagnosis of food allergies is common. Over-the-counter allergy testing can either miss important food allergies or lead to overdiagnosis which may result in potentially dangerous situations with exposure to different foods.
Although the allergy results may originate from a CLIA laboratory where there is supposed to be physician oversight, how can you be sure that the results of the tests are individually analyzed for your specific situation? The answer is: you can’t. Only a licensed physician, specifically an allergy-trained specialist, can verify allergy test results.
Why testing by a licensed allergist is better?
If you truly suspect that you might have certain allergies, not even the best at-home allergy tests can be completely reliable. Instead, it's always better to seek professional medical examination and supervision. Here are the main reasons why getting tested by a licensed allergist is better than using an at-home allergy testing kit:
Medical background check. Trained allergists will focus on the exact cause of your allergies. That means they will assess your history of sensitivities, review your family history, and monitor your reactions to different allergens.
Personalization. Allergy testing will be tailored to your needs and specific situations. The only way to provide accurate data about your allergies is to perform the right tests for you. The results of the tests must be compared to your specific allergic reactions on different occasions to be accurate.
Accuracy. The reality is that both blood and skin prick allergy tests can be wrong. That means they yield false positive results showing that you are allergic to something, but you really are not. An allergist will complete multiple tests and closely monitor the results for accuracy.
Correct result interpretation. Your allergist can then provide you with an assessment and explanation of the allergy test results. This is something you cannot do on your own. A high, abnormal test result may or may not be significant in every instance.
Professional medical evaluation. An allergist can identify different potential irritants for you and possible cross-reactivity of other allergens. This is something the over-the-counter allergy results will not identify for you.