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

A female reads the ingredients on the back of a bottle at the supermarket


In this article:

  • Learn about the eight most common food allergens in the U.S.

  • See why all food allergy tests are not created equal.

  • Know the dangers of self-testing.

Food allergies and intolerances affect people’s quality of life due to 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. Possible 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 of 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 may occur 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 caused by food allergies?

Food allergy reactions are a bit hard to predict. They can be mild, such as hives or minor stomach pain. But others can be much more severe and cause throat swelling, dramatically lower blood pressure and even respiratory arrest.

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 finding clues that can help them find life-saving treatments.

Should you self-test for food allergies?

The short answer: Self testing is 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 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease 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

If you have questions about food allergies, contact Allergy & Immunology at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Additional resources 

Are you allergic or intolerant to certain foods?

The link between food allergies and childhood anxiety

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 health care professional's instructions.

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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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