allergy testing
March 19, 2012 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Is there a reliable way to test for food allergies, without seeing an allergist?

Preferably seeking a less expensive way to test to see what foods I am allergic to, if any. Don't have the money to see an allergist.

posted by luvmywife to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could try an elimination diet on your own. Do have antihistamines on hand in case of reactions.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:32 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

what foods I am allergic to, if any

Does this mean you don't have any symptoms after eating a particular food? There can be a wide range of reactions that can be called allergic, and there's an awful lot of food and ingredients in food out there.
posted by rtha at 6:36 AM on March 19, 2012

One way to start before doing the elimination diet would be to keep a food journal for a few weeks. Write down what you eat and take time to notice how you're feeling after you eat. You can make a note right after eating than check in 30 minutes or an hour later to see how you're feeling and if there was a change. That will help you figure out what foods to target when you do the elimination diet.
posted by Kimberly at 6:37 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding an elimination diet... it's how I found out what foods were contributing to my migraines. It's not easy, but it's way cheaper than an allergist.
posted by patheral at 6:41 AM on March 19, 2012

Thirding elimiation diets, but you may also want to read up on food intolerance. Food allergies result in hives, facial swelling, anaphylaxis and trouble breathing (auto immune response). Food intolerance tends to present in diegestive issues and do not result in an immune reaction. (given that you don't mention a hospital visit after eating something, I'm going to presume you're referring to a food intolerance). Both are extremely irritating to experience.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following methods that a doctor may use to determine your allergy. You can do the elimination diet and journaling methods on your own. If you have a GP/any primary care doctor, I'd talk to them (or a nurse on staff) about it as well, just so that it is noted in your medical record that it is a concern. They probably will have advice about how to cope that is far more applicable to your situation than random internet strangers.
posted by larthegreat at 7:16 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't necessarily need to see an allergist to get an official diagnosis from a doctor. If you have any access to a regular, non-allergist general practitioner (even at a free / sliding scale clinic), he or she may be able to order allergy blood tests (RAST tests) at a lab without you ever seeing an allergist. The GP will of course recommend that you see an allergist for a full workup with skin tests if any of those blood tests come back positive, but you don't have to. The blood work may be mostly or fully covered if you have insurance; if you do not have insurance but can get in to see a free / sliding scale clinic doctor, I would suggest mentioning to the doctor that you do not have insurance and trying to negotiate a lower price / payment plan for the tests.

My son has a food allergy and we were able to confirm it with a simple blood test ordered by our regular family doctor before seeing an allergist (later testing by an allergist basically just helped us fine tune the diagnosis by figuring out how severe the allergy was). Because we have fairly functional insurance the cost of the initial diagnosis was under $80 -- just the price of an office visit copay and the cost of the test after our insurance discount. Without insurance of course the price could be much higher, but seeing a GP would still be cheaper than seeing an allergist, and many doctors are willing to negotiate with the uninsured. (I have been uninsured so I know how impossible it feels trying to get health care when you don't have insurance, but remember: it can't hurt to ask.)

However a blood test will only detect an actual allergy -- not an intolerance, if that's what you have. And without an allergists' help, borderline results from a low-level allergy may be difficult to interpret. The way to sort out a low-level allergy or an intolerance, as others have mentioned, is by trying an elimination diet.

Do you feel comfortable sharing your symptoms here? Your best course of action depends somewhat on how severe your symptoms are. If you are having serious allergic symptoms -- throat swelling, difficulty breathing -- then you should really try to see a doctor -- any doctor who will see you -- so you can get a prescription for an EpiPen. If your symptoms are more of the daily annoyance variety then self-diagnosis via elimination diet is probably your best bet.
posted by BlueJae at 7:36 AM on March 19, 2012

I don't know what's affordable for you or in your area, but my local "Nurse practitioner in the supermarket" thingie is pretty cheap for everything and gives discounts if you pay cash and they do allergy tests.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:39 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The problem with not using an allergist is that there are a host of symptoms and conditions that get lumped together under the banner "allergy" that aren't really allergies at all. Avoiding the foods would still help, but other allergy treatments would be worthless.

How prevalent is this? The imprecise use of the term allergy is a bit of a pet peeve of mine but when people offer me eggs I still tell them I'm allergic rather than explain that about the time I turned 40 my body decided that digesting eggs was too much work and I started throwing them up instead. Calling it an allergy is expedient and less graphic but if someone were to jab me with an Epi Pen it wouldn't help one little bit.

If you really really wanted to DIY this the right way (and you are a huge geek) you could do a dot blot but you'd need a secondary antibody against human IgE (the isotype of antibody that is the primary cause true allergic responses) and look for which foods had a lot of IgE sticking to them.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:19 AM on March 19, 2012

I wondered out loud to a doctor once whether I'm lactose intolerant. He suggested that I try cutting out dairy completely for two weeks, then loading up on it for two weeks, and recording my symptoms. This would be doable if your symptoms are pretty minor and not life-threatening.

I do this sort of self-experimentation all the time when my super-sensitive skin flares up; the two options are to remove potential irritants one at a time and see when your skin improves, or to remove everything that might be a problem, wait for improvement, and then reintroduce irritants one at a time. You could do something similar; I usually choose the former, unless I'm really uncomfortable and want the itching to stop NOW.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:19 AM on March 19, 2012

I recently got allergy testing done by an allergy clinic, and I'm going in this Friday for my first mega-treatment of allergy shots.

I asked for testing for food allergies in addition to all the environmental stuff that they test for. Almost everything lit up on the list except for chicken and spinach. So I asked the doctor, what the heck I should do with that information. He said that, while the environmental test is sensitive and specific, the food allergen test is only sensitive. He then said that the results from the test could be anywhere from 50-90% incorrect! So you are probably well within your rights to avoid allergy testing anyway, as it probably isn't terribly helpful.

So what good is the test? Well, it did alert me to a list of foods that are safe. So if/when I do the elimination diet, I will know what to use as my safe base diet to add things into.

I'd say that you could start with some very simple foods and build a very boring diet around them, and eat that for a couple weeks to see how you feel. Then you could slowly add in other foods to see how it changed your wellness. My primary care physician preferred this route when I talked to her about my results. She favored this over the "food diary" route because this is a more specific way to target foods that you might have a reaction to.
posted by jph at 12:23 PM on March 19, 2012

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