health

I Got Poked With 60 Needles For An Allergy Skin Test To Find Out Why I Was So Itchy All The Time

by Grace Eire
Grace plays in a band and is the mother to a black cat named Fitzhugh.

If you ever find yourself itching your skin, experiencing a runny nose or congestion, or constantly reaching for the eye drops, it’s possible that you may have allergies.

Even if you’ve gone through life completely allergy-free, it’s very common to develop them as you get older. This is because, as you are continuously exposed to them, your body can begin to recognize certain allergens as enemies.

When I started to notice that my skin was getting itchier than normal, I began to wonder if I’d potentially developed an allergy to something in my environment. Maybe my cat, Fitzhugh, or the dust accumulating underneath my couch. I simply wanted to find out if there was something that I could change in my own home.

While I don’t think that I could ever kick my kitty out of my room forever, there are other steps to take to reduce your reaction to pet allergies, like using pet wipes or even getting allergy shots.

To find out if I was actually allergic to anything, I made an appointment with an allergist.

What Is An Allergy Skin Test?

allergy skin test
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An allergy skin test identifies specific allergies by exposing your body (skin) to them in a controlled environment. I hoped that I wouldn’t need a blood allergy test or be asked to make a food diary, because, to be honest, I don’t really have a lot of time in the day to spend writing down everything I eat — or to take more time off of work for another doctor’s appointment. Make the day longer, and then get back to me!

Types Of Skin Allergy Tests

Types Of Skin Allergy Tests
  • Prick tests deposit small dots of a wide range of allergens on the surface of the skin on your arms, and then lightly prick the skin with a small needle. I was kind of weirdly excited to see my skin react to one of the mysterious dots. The human body is fascinating!
  • Intradermal tests inject a small amount of an allergen into the outer layer of skin. Within 20 minutes, I’d see a reaction.
  • Patch tests (pictured above) take longer, from 48 to 72 hours. Suspected allergens are bandaged to the back, in patches. I went into this appointment hoping that my doctor wouldn’t suggest this test, because I wouldn’t be able to get my back wet for three whole days. Just for starters, that would be impossible, as it’s just early fall in New York City, and I sweat (profusely) on the subway every single day. Then, again, I don’t have the time to come back into the office for three days in one week! I am a busy girl!

Do Allergy Skin Tests Have Side Effects?

reaction
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These tests are pretty darn safe, although there are some people that have serious reactions. In some cases, you may see hives or itchy red bumps (called wheals) form on the skin. Seeing these things, though, is what will tell you if you are allergic.

I wasn’t really too worried about any serious reactions, although I do get extremely bad reactions to bug bites. My mother tells me that, as a baby, I was once bitten by a mosquito on my face, and I swelled up to look like John Merrick from The Elephant Man. Would this doctor’s appointment prove to be a repeat? Probably not, but you never really know!

In rare cases, however, some patients do have anaphylactic reactions. I’ve never had anything like this before, so I really wasn’t worried about losing my breath at this visit.

Before Getting An Allergy Skin Test

antihistamine
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There are no food or drink restrictions before an allergy skin test. However! You can’t take antihistamines for five days before the test.

I had a little run-in with antihistamines one day before my appointment was originally scheduled. It was late at night, and I was having an issue with an old ear piercing acting up.

As always, I feared that death was near via an infection that would surely and quickly spread to my brain. I texted my mom, who told me to take an anti-inflammatory and go to sleep. I reached for some cold and sinus medication, as that’s all I had, only to realize the next morning that I had done the only thing I wasn’t supposed to. Once again, I panicked and called to reschedule my appointment.

On the plus side, the original appointment had been for Friday, and I didn’t want to miss free-lunch Friday.

The Day Of The Appointment

late
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The morning of the test was a total, freaking (pardon my French) disaster. The exterminator had to come to the apartment, and my roommate and I had to take our cats (yes, there are two of them in our tiny Brooklyn apartment) to a friend’s house. I managed to get Fitzhugh into his carrier and loaded up into a cab with my roommate and her cat.

I couldn’t escort the kitties to their temporary home, because I was already late to the doc. I snapped this blurry picture in a mad frenzy, worried that Fitz would somehow go missing or get hurt during the day away from home, only just then remembering I was writing this article.

Before Actually Administering The Test

waiting
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My visit started out as most do: getting my blood pressure measured. After that was deemed normal, the assistant left the room and told me the doctor would be with me shortly. I only had a very brief wait before the doctor came in to ask me all about my symptoms, if I’d started any new products recently, or noticed symptoms at any particular time and place.

Make sure that you have answers to these kinds of questions ready before you go to the allergist. Take note of when and where you get itchy or experience congestion so that your doctor will be able to help you as best as he or she can.

I was not very helpful, as I soon realized. I don’t really know when and where I get itchy, just that it happens sometimes. For all I know, it could all be in my mind. My doctor was understanding, though and moved forward without much help from me! I cannot commend her enough for bearing with my hazy and often contradictory answers.

Prepping My Skin For The Test

prep
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After deciding that an environmental test — rather than a food test — would make most sense for me, the assistant came back in to actually administer the test.

First, she labeled my arms with numbers that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but were second nature to her. Then she cleaned the area to make sure everything was nice and sterile before puncturing my skin.

She was super-understanding of my picture-taking, for which I felt a little awkward about. Who takes pictures at the doctor’s office? I decided to stop apologizing, though, and just pretend that this behavior was totally normal.

The Actual Test

the test
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I’m not afraid of needles, and I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but, I can assure you: even if you don’t like pain, you will be just fine during this test. It doesn’t even feel like needles poking your skin — more like a pencil tip pressing against and not puncturing your skin. Not even a little bit scary.

The most annoying part of the actual test was trying to get the darn pictures while this poor woman was just trying to do her job. I take back my previous statement about not apologizing, and I sincerely apologize to this assistant for hindering her workflow and causing the allergens to drip all over my arm.

Waiting For Allergy Skin Test Results

histamine
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The only thing that really started to itch right away was the control prick loaded with histamine, which is intended to make you itchy. This control is to make sure that your body will react to something if you are truly allergic to it.

I kept waiting for little red bumps to pop up next to one or more of the dashes on my arm. I really wanted there to be a reason for the itching. It would also be cool to learn something new about myself. (Saying this, I realize, sounds stupid, but I’m just being honest here!)

As time ticked by — just a few minutes — it wasn’t looking like I’d get any little red results.

The Results

results
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And with a results sheet full of zeroes, it turns out I’m not allergic to any of the many, many things on the panel. I guess I’m just itchy!

My doctor recommended that I come back in a few weeks to complete a food panel and also conduct a patch test. She seemed very determined to make sure that I don’t have to go through life being itchy, and she genuinely seemed like she wanted to help me find the culprit of my discomfort.

However, my symptoms aren’t bad enough for me to warrant spending another $100 and missing more hours of work, so I am going to postpone further testing.

Plan Of Action

cream apply
Grace Eire for LittleThings

Instead, I am going to try applying this prescription-strength Hylatopic cream twice daily (or as often as I’d like, as there are no steroids or anything like that in this cream) to my itchy areas, and I will take Allegra if there are days when I am extra itchy.

My suspicion is that I have sensitive, dry skin that acts up in certain environments or when I am stressed. Now that I think about it, most of my medical issues are stress-related, including a permanent lump in my throat and mysterious acid reflux that no doctor can figure out.

I don’t feel like the itching is a dangerous problem for me, just an annoying and sometimes uncomfortable one. The main annoyance is that every time I do get itchy, I worry that I’ve contracted something scary like scabies or some weird bacteria. I know that it’s not scabies, though, as I mysteriously found myself with them before and know the true symptoms of that nightmarish scenario. They could be anywhere.

Final Thoughts On Allergy Skin Tests

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Grace Eire for LittleThings

Since I’m a hypochondriac (if you couldn’t tell!), I always get a certain comfort from medical testing, even when the results aren’t so great. My motto in this regard is pretty much, “Well, at least now I know!”

The skin prick allergy test was painless, quick, and conclusive. I’m glad to know I’m still not allergic to my cat or anything else in my environment. If you think that you have an allergy, this test is a good (and pretty much the only) place to start! Also, don’t worry, they will wash the numbers off of your arm and apply cortisone cream to any positive results.

Just make sure to find out if your insurance will cover some of the cost, as an allergist is a specialist. My copay for this appointment was $50. Also, make sure you find a good doctor. Mine sent me away with a little goodie bag full of samples, was very kind and thorough, and seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being.

However, skin allergy testing isn’t always 100% accurate, according to the Mayo Clinic. False positives and false negatives can occur, which is why you have to pay very close attention to when you notice symptoms in your everyday life. If you have reason to believe that your skin allergy test came out with false results, talk to your allergist about moving forward with another kind of testing.

If you plan to try allergy skin testing, make sure to SHARE for everyone who could use a few of these tips!