Doctors use a skin prick test to determine allergies in patients

Skin prick is a time-tested way of testing for allergies

ARKLATEX (KSLA) - As spring approaches and temperatures warm, allergies are going to become more of a problem.

In the ArkLaTex, the allergy season begins with tree pollens. By the end of February, cedar and juniper will be causing the most problems.

By March, yellow pollen from pine trees start to fall. Even though many people blame pine trees for their allergy symptoms. Dr. David Kaufman with Breathe America said pine pollen does not cause allergies.

Dr. Kaufman said it is the invisible oak and elk pollen that people are allergic to.

In April, pecan trees and grasses start to pollinate. The grass allergy peaks in May and ends in June.

Typically, weed pollen will start to agitate people around Labor Day and last until the first freeze of fall.

Indoor allergens such as cat and dog dander, dust mites and mold spores can impact people are year long.

With so many allergens, a doctor cannot help treat a patient without determining what they are allergic to first.

On Wednesday, KSLA News 12's James Parish went to Breathe America to find out exactly how allergist determine what their patients are allergic to, and Dr. Kaufman performed a skin prick test on him.

"We are doing an allergy skin prick test and this has been the traditional way to diagnose allergies for probably a century," said Dr. Kaufman. "It is still the best and most accurate way to diagnose what people are allergic to."

An allergy skin prick test can be used to diagnose food allergies as well.

Below is a list of all the different types allergens that were tested on James.

"Notice, she is just scratching the skin and not injecting it with anything. That is enough to get the extract into the skin," said Dr. Kaufman.

"Now we are going to observe over a 15-minute time frame if your skin welts up. A welt or a hive-like reaction would be considered a positive [test]."

Shortly after the test began, James said his arms became red and itchy.

Beginning of the test

End of the test

Dr. Kaufman said they used histamine as control and that is what they compared the other positive tests to.

"Everybody reacts to histamine. In fact, it is the substance that is produced during an allergic reaction. We will measure your histamine, which will definitely itch and welt and compare other positives to the histamine to see how positive you are to the other allergens," said Dr. Kaufman.

After the test was over, Dr. Kaufman said James was allergic to grass pollen and had a mild tree pollen allergy.

Typically, the allergy skin prick tests are performed on the back of a patient instead of on their arms.

"The back has fewer pain receptors than the lower arms, so it is a comfort thing for patients and, traditionally, there is more room, so we can spread out the different prick tests, so they don't run into each other for a more accurate test," said Kaufman.

Even though some people claim allergy skin prick test are painful, James said it wasn't all.

"The great news is that the scratches themselves are pinches at most. You may feel them, but they are not painful," said Dr. Kaufman.

"Any welts or itchy reactions that you have will largely disappear within an hour, so patients are going to be able to go back to work and children back to school."

Right now, it's too early to determine how bad this allergy season will be.

So far, it's been a cold winter, which means the trees won't pollinate on time.

Dr. Kaufman said the downside to that is the trees pollinate very abruptly, so pollen counts could get very high quickly.

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