Childhood is full of many tough lessons. For many, allergy testing is one of them. As your child grows and experiences new things, there is a good chance they will come into contact with something that triggers an allergic reaction.
Allergy testing is an important tool in discovering allergies, gauging the degree of the reaction, and helping you keep them safe. However, allergy testing can be a scary experience for children, and create unnecessary anxiety. In order to help you and your child prepare for an upcoming allergy test session, we have created a parent’s guide to allergy testing.
There are two basic types of allergy tests that may be performed on your child. The first test is called a percutaneous skin test. This test delivers a very small and diluted version of a particular allergen to the top layer of the skin using a small scratch or prick. The second test is an intradermal skin test, where the doctor will use a needle to inject the allergen.
If your child currently takes antihistamines, they will need to stop taking them for a full week before testing. This is to prevent the medicine from masking or interfering with the test results. If you feel your child cannot tolerate going without these types of medications, speak with your doctor about ways to protect them from allergic reactions during that week.
The most important thing when discussing an allergy test with your child is honesty. Explain what the doctor will do during the test, and also explain why the test is being performed. Doctor visits can be extremely distressing for young children, especially when they do not know what to expect. Reassure your child that the test is safe, and important in discovering what is making them sick. It can also be helpful to let the child know that they will be exposed to just a tiny amount of the allergen, and that an allergy team will be with them the entire time to keep them safe from any severe reactions.
Many children are curious as to how the test will feel. You can tell them that the sensation is similar to a small scratch. Reassure them that the test will not cause bleeding or pain, though be honest with them that it may cause some mild discomfort and itchiness.
During the test, most children take comfort in having a parent with them for support. Let your child know that you are proud of them for being brave, and comfort them if they become scared or upset. Parents of babies and toddlers often find having a familiar toy or pacifier will soothe the child during testing.
Once the doctor has administered the allergen to the skin, you and your child will have to wait to see if an allergic reaction is triggered. This can sometimes take up to 15 minutes. It’s a good idea to bring a book or tablet for your child to help pass the time.
If your child is allergic to a particular allergen, the area where it was applied will swell and itch, similar to a mosquito bite. If this occurs, the nurse will measure the reaction, and then provide a topical cream or antihistamine to treat the reaction. Once the testing is complete, your doctor will discuss treatment options and ways to avoid triggering future allergic reactions.
If the skin testing is inconclusive, or the doctor believes more detailed testing should be performed, he may recommend a blood draw to test for allergies. While the blood draw test is relatively short, it can be extremely scary for children. Before testing, many parents discuss the potential of a blood draw with their children, to help them mentally prepare for the possibility of the test. If a blood test is recommended, remind your child that this is an important part of finding out what is making them sick and what will help them to feel better.
Above all else, remember to be patient with your child. Your support, honesty, calmness, and comfort will make the experience immeasurably easier and keep your child from having as much fear.
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