What are the types of allergy testing?

woman sneezing

There are various methods of detecting allergies, and each one has its supporters. Many of these ways are highly effective at detecting the problems that cause or contribute to your symptoms.

Medical allergy testing

Medical testing seeks to use reproducible tests, i.e. where a repeat test would show exactly the same results even when the tester does not know the original results.

Patch testing, skin prick testing and scratch testing are highly reproducible, but are not necessarily accurate, as they only measure the reaction of the skin to a potential allergen. The skin tissues do not necessarily react in the same way as, for example, the lining of the lungs or the stomach.

In consequence there are likely to be some false-positive results (i.e. suggesting the person is allergic to something when they are not) or false-negative results (i.e. suggesting the person is not allergic to something when they are).

Other forms of testing, such as EAV, kinesiology and radionics testing may not always pass the medical test of reproducibility, but do have many supporters who recount personal experiences of their accuracy.

I  was a health kinesiology practitioner for many years and found it to be a rapid, safe and accurate method of detecting allergies.

Some systems use dilutions of substances for testing. At its simplest this means that a substance is mixed with a solvent, and the resulting liquid is tested. (See intra-dermal skin testing, skin prick testing and scratch testing, below.)

Homeopathic dilutions are used in some systems. This involves diluting the test substance repeatedly, with a sample of the previous dilution being diluted to form the next dilution. This is usually repeated until there is unlikely to be any of the original substance physically present in the liquid, but an ‘energy pattern’ or memory of the substance is still present. Sometimes a radionics machine is used which magnetically produces the energy pattern of a given substance. Because these do not deteriorate, it allows practitioners to use extensive testing kits. (See electro-acupuncture according to Voll, kinesiology and radionic testing, below.)

Some systems measure immunoglobulins. These are also known as antibodies. They are produced by the body as part of the immune system. They bind to foreign substances in the body. Each antibody is designed to recognize only a specific antigen. When an antigen is encountered, more copies of the antibody are made. These bind to the antigen, identifying it so that other parts of the immune system attack and destroy it.

There are five main types of antibody: IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM. Some testing methods are looking at IgE antibodies, whose main function appears to be protecting the body from parasites. See RAST testing. Others are checking for IgG antibodies, whose main roles are to protect against bacteria and viruses, and give initial protection to the newborn baby. (See cytotoxic and ELISA testing, below.)

Avoidance & Challenge / Exclusion Diet:

Many people will try excluding foods, or changing things in the environment to test out their sensitivity. This can work well, if only a few substances are involved.

Allergy A to Z bookThe strictest form of this approach involves eating no food and drinking only spring water for 5 days, and then gradually introducing one food at a time. This demands a lot of self-control and does not take into account contact/inhalant allergens or properly allow for tolerance problems. Re-introducing a food after 5 or more days can be very risky as the body may then be in a very sensitive state to that substance. Some authorities recommend that the period of avoidance should be longer before the food is reintroduced.

Of course, it is also possible to remove just one substance at a time. This often works very well, but if it is replaced by something equally problematic then the allergen is not usually identified.

I found that one of my clients had an allergy to pillow feathers, and these were in part causing her blocked nose. She was sceptical about this, as she had changed her pillow some time before to a polyester one without any obvious benefit. I immediately tested polyester and found that she was sensitive to this as well. A case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

Once when testing a small child I found him allergic to milk and oranges. When I suggested to his mother that this might be aggravating his eczema, she assured me I must be wrong, as she had tried excluding these things to no avail. I asked her if she had excluded them both at the same time. She then realised that when she had excluded milk she had given her child orange juice to drink, and when she had excluded orange juice he had had extra milk.

(See my book Allergy Testing A to Z, ISBN: 9780954243920, for more information on this.)

Cytotoxic Allergy Testing:

In this test white blood cells from the patient are mixed with the suspected allergen. If the person has an allergy to the substance, the white blood cells begin to degenerate. While this cannot be seen with the naked eye, it can be seen with a microscope by a trained technician.

Substances causing visible cell changes are then identified as allergens. This procedure is solely concerned with IgG4 antibodies. A lot of false-negatives and false-positives may be found using this method, partly because it is a very boring but exacting job for the laboratory technicians involved. There have been a lot of criticisms of its accuracy.

Electroacupuncture According to Voll (EAV) Allergy Testing:

This procedure was developed by Dr. Reinhold Voll of Germany. The technique utilises an ohmmeter, a hand held probe and a point probe and is designed to measure the skin’s electrical activity at designated acupuncture points. In the UK this is often known as Vega Testing or Bicom.

The client holds the negative hand probe in one hand and the practitioner applies the other probe to points on the opposite hand or foot. The application of the probe elicits a very low constant voltage to the acupuncture point being tested. A reading of the residual current flowing through the hand into the ohmmeter is then taken. This can give information on the state of health of various organs and systems of the body. When testing substances for allergies, the test substance is placed onto a testing plate and the point reading is done as normal. The subsequent reading on the ohmmeter would indicate whether or not the person was allergic to that substance. Modern forms of EAV utilise computer software to enhance the effectiveness of the equipment and are now referred to as computerised electro dermal screening devices or ‘CEDS devices’. Different models are available from different manufacturers (e.g. Vega, Mora, BEST, Orion, Avatar and QXCI).

ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbant Assay) Allergy Testing:

This method is carried out in a laboratory on a pinprick of blood, which can often be sent through the post. The sample is diluted and placed on a plate with various food antigens located in wells. After several procedures, the plate is checked by computer to see if food antibodies have bound to the antigens. This procedure considers IgG 1,2,3 and 4. Only looks at foods. Available by mail order.

Intradermal Allergy Skin Testing:

This is always carried out in a medical setting. Solutions of allergens are tested by injecting under the skin, and the resulting weal is measured. Increase in weal size denotes an allergen. Sometimes different dilutions are used until a dilution is found which does not produce a weal. This dilution is then given as oral drops or injections to turn off the allergic reaction. A costly, painstaking and painful procedure.

Kinesiology Allergy Testing:

A system based on manually testing muscle reactions is used to identify allergies. The substance (or a homeopathic/radionic version) is placed either in the mouth or on the body, and the response of one or more muscles is assessed. This allows a whole range of substances to be rapidly checked. There are different branches of kinesiology, some (such as health kinesiology) have a greater interest in allergy problems than others. It can be extremely accurate, but does depend heavily on the knowledge and skill of the practitioner.

Allergy Patch Testing:

This is usually used for testing for contact allergens, and is carried out in a medical setting. A strip of adhesive with various samples attached to it is placed on the patient’s back for 48 hours. When the strip is removed, any raised, reddened or blistered areas are noted and the corresponding substance is regarded as an allergen for that person. A limited range of substances can be tested in this way. Only testing the skin’s reaction to substances, so may be misleading.

Allergy Pulse Testing:

This technique is set out in ‘The Pulse Test’ by Arthur F. Coca. It is based on the finding that eating allergenic substances causes an increase in the pulse. The pulse is taken at regular intervals before and after meals, on waking and on going to bed. The normal range for the pulse is established, and then individual food items are tested and a pulse reading is taken. Inhalant/contact allergens can sometimes be found this way too. People using this approach often get very anxious, so that the pulse keeps on going up and down independent of anything they are eating, leading to confusing results. Smoking is not allowed during the process. This does not work well if the person has a lot of allergies, particularly to substances in the environment, because exposure to one of these can increase the pulse, while an innocent food is being tested.

Radionic Allergy Testing: Can you do an allergy test with a hair sample?

Radionic practitioners usually use a ‘witness’ of the client – often a hair sample. They use dowsing to establish problem substances. Very dependent on the skill and knowledge of the individual practitioner.

RAST Testing:

RAST stands for Radio Allergo-Sorbent Test. Allergens are mixed with the person’s blood. If specific antibodies for that allergen are present in the blood, they will attach themselves to the allergen. Anti-human IgE, tagged with a radioactive label, is added and allowed to combine with the antigen-specific IgE. The level of radioactivity of the sample is measured. This then can be translated into the level of antibody activity in relation to a particular substance. This is looking at only one type of reaction (IgE). Some people who have a lot of allergies have very high levels of total IgE, and this can confuse the test result.

Skin Prick Allergy Testing (SPT):

A drop of the suspected allergen is placed on the skin, usually the forearm, and a small prick is made through the drop into the skin, and the reaction is then monitored. If a weal or reddening of the skin occurs, this suggests that the person is allergic to the substance. Unfortunately some people react severely to this form of testing, and children can become quite frightened and unco-operative. Only testing reaction of skin to allergen, so may give inaccurate results. This is usually carried out in a medical setting.

Allergy Scratch Testing:

This is a less severe version of the prick test. A drop of the suspected allergen in solution is placed on the skin and then the skin is scratched so that the allergen can enter into the skin. Only testing reaction of skin to allergen, so may be misleading.