Allergies in infants and children are becoming rather common. As per studies, allergy-related disorders are the leading cases of chronic diseases in children. Around 4-6% children suffer from food allergies, while a percentage of 8 to 10 have asthma and around 15 to 20% kids are diagnosed with allergic rhinitis.
Allergies can affect the quality of life to a large extent with children having to miss out on a lot of things. Therefore, it is important that a proper treatment plan is formulated at the right stage. For this, the first hurdle that needs to be crossed is identifying the allergen responsible for the reaction. Thus, allergy testing needs to be done.
Allergy Testing in Children
Children or babies developing allergic symptoms can be quite troublesome for parents. The experience can be quite stressful for the kid who is unable to enjoy just being a kid. Thus, it is important that the culprit allergen is revealed soon so that the course of action can be decided.
The idea of tests for babies tends to scare parents. However, if you are aware of what lies in store, you can be prepared accordingly. We are, therefore, going to shed some light on the common methods used to test children and infants for allergens.
The first thing you need to understand is when a child requires an allergy test. It is not uncommon for infants and children to develop symptoms that mimic an allergic reaction. With the help of allergy testing, it can be revealed whether the symptoms are indeed caused by an allergy and if so, what is the allergen.
The conditions where you should contemplate getting allergy testing include the likes of asthma, adverse reaction to any food item or medicine, rhinitis or skin rashes.
Flu-like symptoms that last for a period of more than a week and occur at the same time of year should also make you suspicious. If a kid coughs or wheezes during the night, it might be due to allergic asthma with an indoor allergen being responsible.
How Do They Test Children for Allergies?
If you think your baby or child has an allergy, you need to consult an allergist who will then decide on the methods that should be used to reach a diagnosis. Once the allergy has been proven, a treatment plan would be decided.
The tests usually take place in a medical setting and are commenced by acquiring a detailed medical history of the child. Family history is of significance as well. Following this, a thorough physical examination is conducted. Lastly, the allergy tests are done.
1. Skin Tests
This is the most common method for finding out allergens. These tests are used to detect allergies caused by various things including food, medications, airborne particles and insect stings among others.
For children, it is the percutaneous and intradermal skin tests which are often conducted. These are immediate skin tests where a diluted antigen is administered into the top layer of the skin by means of a prick or scratch. A thin needle can also be used to inject it into the skin.
The tests are found to be rather safe and yield accurate results. However, percutaneous skin testing is not conducted on infants younger than 6 months old. Barring this, there is no age limit for these tests.
The intradermal test which is quite sensitive is used when the allergist thinks that the child has an allergy to any medicine or insect sting. Another situation where the test is conducted is when an allergen was not detected by the skin prick test.
While intradermal tests are low risk, they carry the risk of an anaphylactic reaction in a sensitive patient. Therefore, it is important that the test is conducted in a setting which is equipped to deal with any medical emergency.
The accuracy of the results can be affected if the children are on any medications. Therefore, the medication needs to be stopped around 3 to 14 days prior to the test. There is no need to stop asthma medications, though. Furthermore, it is important to let the allergist know about all the medicines that the child takes.
Once the skin has been exposed to the allergen, the region is observed for some time, usually for a duration of around 15 minutes. If a wheal develops, the result is positive and the conclusion is made that the child has an allergy antibody to that specific allergen.
The larger the size of the wheal, the greater the sensitivity. Wheal refers to a raised, red, itchy region that develops on the skin.
Another option is to have patch tests done which stress on delayed hypersensitivity. This test is used to diagnose contact dermatitis. The patch needs to be left in place for around 48 hours. After removal, the area is checked for reactions at a specific time.
2. Blood Tests
If parents are uncomfortable with the idea of their children being exposed to allergens, another option is a RAST test. This is a blood test where blood is checked for levels of IgE. The test is less sensitive as compared to skin tests.
Elimination Diet Tests
If a child is suspected of having food allergies, you might be recommended to supervise the diet of the child and eliminate certain items to check for reactions. In children, the allergens responsible are usually milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, shellfish and tree nuts.
However, this approach can be a bit problematic since there is a great deal of inaccuracy.
In babies, usually skin tests or blood tests are preferred. Since babies might not have a strong skin reaction, the results are cross checked with family history.
There is no denying that allergy tests can be somewhat time-consuming and stressful. However, once the allergen has been identified, you can put all your worries to rest and your child does not need to miss out on their childhood.