Should you test yourself for food allergies? And will it work?

Thinking about doing a “DIY” food allergy test at home? Before you do, see why you may want an expert by your side.

  • Learn about the eight common food allergens in the U.S.
  • See why all food allergy tests are not created equal.
  • Know the dangers of self-testing.

[3 MIN READ]

Food allergies and intolerances affect people’s quality of life because there’s a constant chance of accidental exposure to the wrong foods. Though researchers with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have found several risk factors for developing food allergies, scientists have not yet found a reason why they seem to be on the rise. Certain factors may include pollution, dietary changes, food processing and the environment.

You may be wondering if you or a loved one has a food allergy. This may raise the question about whether you should be diagnosed by a professional or start with a do-it-yourself allergy test. Before you decide, check out these questions and answers about testing for food allergies — whether “DIY” or by a professional. 

What is a food allergy?

According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), a food allergy is a serious health condition that affects 32 million Americans. This type of allergy happens when a person’s immune system overreacts to a harmless food protein, which is called an allergen.

The most common food allergens in the U.S. are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Another possible reason food allergies happen is family history. Other kinds of allergic reactions, such as hay fever or eczema, may also lead to a greater risk of food allergy.  

Are food allergies dangerous?

They can be. That’s why it’s important to take food allergies seriously. The list above is by no means limited to those eight foods. A reaction to a food allergy may happen in response to any food. While food allergies usually begin in childhood, adults can develop them as well. On the other hand, some people “outgrow” food allergies.  

What are the reactions of food allergies?

Food allergy reactions are a bit hard to predict. They can vary from a mild reaction such as hives or minor stomach pain. But other food reactions can be much more severe, and cause throat swelling, dramatically lower blood pressure and passing out.

Is there a cure for food allergies?

For now, there’s no cure for food allergies, which means the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the allergen. Take heart though: Scientists are learning more and more about food allergies, clues that can help them find life-saving treatments.

Should you self-test for food allergies?

The short answer: Self tests are not recommended. Here are just a few of the reasons why.

  • Food intolerances and sensitivities can cause discomfort, swelling, rashes and GI reactions but are not immediately life-threatening like a food allergy. With a food allergy, reactions can be serious and downright dangerous. A suspected food allergy or intolerance needs a proper diagnosis to help avoid serious outcomes. Medical expertise from an allergist and nutritionist can also help you determine whether you have an intolerance or food allergy, which can be difficult or confusing with a DIY kit.

Since there isn’t any one test that can tell you what foods to stay away from, you’ll want to partner with a provider who has the expertise to choose the best test for your specific situation and then interpret it based on your symptoms.

  • While an online search will turn up dozens of “food allergy testing” kits, many don’t deliver reliable results — and some are outright fakes. How will you know which is which? Since there isn’t any one test that can tell you what foods to stay away from, you’ll want to partner with a provider who has the expertise to choose the best test for your specific situation and then interpret it based on your symptoms. That provider can also develop a dietary plan to help you avoid the allergen while also getting the nutrients you need.
  • A properly trained expert can help you navigate the complicated path to a diagnosis. Home testing on the other hand, may lead to unnecessary food elimination, which can cause unneeded stress. Even worse, home testing may cause you to miss other health conditions or factors that may actually be behind your symptoms.  
  • The NIAID provides guidelines about diagnosing and managing food allergies. They say home tests “lack evidence demonstrating any value in diagnosing food allergies.” 

How can you find out if you have food allergies?

You’re much better off working with a board-certified allergist who will decide on the right test for you, which may include:

  • Skin-prick tests
  • Oral food challenges
  • Blood tests
  • Evaluation of your symptoms

Allergists are specially trained to perform food allergy testing. They’ll partner with you on the complex journey to diagnosis and help you avoid costly, often ineffective and dangerously inaccurate home tests.

Find a doctor

The Swedish allergy and immunology specialists can help you test for food allergies and intolerances and improve your health overall. Find a doctor you can trust in our provider directory.

Related resources

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)

Are you allergic or intolerant to certain foods?

The link between food allergies and childhood anxiety

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Anaphylaxis can be a matter of life or death

8 Tips for Choosing an Allergist-Immunologist

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

 

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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