What’s the best advice for parents wanting to prep their kids for allergy testing? “Don’t!” laughs Carr. You may only raise your child’s anxiety — today’s skin-prick tests are about as hard to take as a mosquito bite and she may not need a blood test at all. That’s an important message for parents who recall multiple painful injections from their own childhood. “I have such awful memories of my testing,” says Melanie Bertrand, who admits she was nervous when her son Cameron was tested at 20 months. “But his allergy testing was nothing like I remembered.”
Roberts says that some children are irritated by the itching that may accompany a positive skin test. “But the skin punctures can be done very quickly, with minimal discomfort.” But do make sure your kid hasn’t taken anything containing antihistamine — including cold medicine — for several days beforehand or it can alter the results.
Your child will need follow-ups to evaluate new allergy symptoms — environmental allergies often peak in the teen years — or to check if old allergies have been outgrown. “There’s never a kid with allergies where we would say, ‘you’re done, never come back,’” Carr says. Most kids with milk and egg allergies will outgrow them, and one in five peanut-allergic kids will lose this allergy as well.
The time between appointments will depend on the child’s age and allergies, but could be every one to three years. And no test will ever tell you what’ll happen down the road. “Children are growing and evolving, and their immune systems are learning all the time, so they can develop allergies at any time,” Roberts notes. Checking in with the allergist regularly means an ongoing chance to gather information as your kid grows and changes. “If you’re using the tests in the right situation, they’re incredibly useful,” says Carr.
A version of this article appeared in our April 2012 issue, with the headline Put Allergies to the Test (p. 38).