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Why I am dissatisfied with the results of my son’s Skin Prick test to see if he is allergic to any foods

Updated on March 18, 2013
Courtesy of Naypong
Courtesy of Naypong

When my son was little, I fed him some scrambled egg only for him to vomit it all up, go all red and blotchy and then puff up. He was only 8 months old and I must say I did panic a bit as I hadn’t had any experience with allergies and didn’t really know what was happening. After a trip to the hospital though, I was armed with Piriton and more information about what to feed him and what not to feed him.

NB - If you are having problems yourself though the most important information I can give is if there are any problems with breathing or swelling up then a trip to the hospital immediately is the best course of action.

I hope it doesn’t but if this does happen, then the doctor or hospital can also help with finding out what the cause was as they can carry out either blood tests or skin prick tests to see what you are allergic to. The skin prick test consists of a tiny bit of the allergen being put on the surface of the skin. It isn’t as bad as it sounds as the skin isn’t actually broken during the test, just scratched on top. If the patient is allergic, then the skin will turn red and be quite raised within about 15 minutes.

They also put on a control positive and a control negative. On the negative control, the skin will not change, for the positive control though, the skin looks like it would if you reacted to an allergen. In this way, they can tell how allergic you are to something. However with both the blood test and the skin prick test they say that they are not 100% accurate and they may give false positives and negatives. This didn’t help us at all!

Courtesy of Stoon
Courtesy of Stoon

I took my son to the hospital when he was 10 for a skin prick test. They tested him for both egg-white and yolk as well as the whole egg, various nuts and shrimp. He said that the test itself didn’t hurt at all and we then sat in the waiting room for 15 minutes while his skin reacted. It only took a couple of minutes before he was producing bumps and lumps all over his arm. Amazingly, the space where they had put the peanut allergen began to take on the shape of a peanut. Coincidence I know, but it was worth remarking on – if only I had known the outcome of the test I would have taken a photograph of it at the time.

I was about to when the nurse came out and said it was time to go back in for the bumps to be measured so I didn’t however.

The idea is to measure the reactions with respect to the positive control. If the control is classed as ‘1’ unit, then if one of the others is twice as big it is classed as a ‘2’. From discussions with the nurse, she was saying that anything 5 and over is worth worrying about and anything less than that is still an allergy but possibly less severe. ‘Possibly’ is the key word here as even those with milder allergies like my son (i.e. not a full blown anaphylactic shock) could still have an anaphylaxis when eating the allergens that they are allergic to at some point – no one seems to know exactly and I can understand this, as each person would necessarily be different.

It turned out that the peanut allergen was a 5, all the egg allergens were 3 to 4 and other nuts and shrimp were a 2 to 3 except for walnuts, it was the only one to which he didn’t react. We went home to be told the specialist would get in touch by letter within a week. I gave them 2 weeks but not having heard anything I telephoned the hospital. I spoke to the specialist’s PA and she said that no results were on the computer for my son and the ward where he had the tests done must have not put them on the computer. She therefore passed me on to the ward.

I spoke to the nurse who had carried out the tests and she said that it was standard practice to pass the results on and put them on to the computer at the end of each day. She checked wherever it is that they kept their test results but apparently my son’s weren’t there. She then passed me back to the specialist’s PA. By this time I was a little disturbed but still kept my composure – you get more results with honey than vinegar, right? She suggested that I phone back in 2 days in case it was a delay on the computer (really? Anyone else buying this?) so I said OK as I thought I would give them a chance to run around and find my son’s notes.

Courtesy of Grant Cochrane
Courtesy of Grant Cochrane

‘Coincidentally’, a letter arrived 2 days later from the specialist remarking on the skin prick test. I assumed they must have found the results until I read the letter. Apparently, the tests had shown that he wasn’t allergic at all to any of the allergens he had been tested with so there was no need to worry. Additionally, as a final paragraph it did note that I had initially brought him in because he had had a reaction to egg and I was told that if I wanted to, I could keep egg out of his diet. I think it is safe to assume I was confused at best. I telephoned the specialist to be told she had left her job at the hospital that day and it was the first day of the new specialist and she was really busy. I was quite keen to talk to her and I’m sure it was difficult being the first day of a new job but I was worried so I waited for a call back from her.

Thankfully, she did phone me back but said that although the results weren’t on the system for her to look at (and she couldn’t tell me why they were seemingly lost) that if the previous specialist had written to me, she MUST have seen them. As I trust doctors – well, we have to don’t we, if we are ill, they are supposed to know more than us about what to do – I would like to think she had seen the results. The trouble is, they didn’t bear an awful lot of resemblance to what I remembered happening while we were in the hospital. Oh I wish I had taken that photo!

Granted, these tests aren’t exact but to have his whole arm reacting (apart from the area with walnut!) and particularly the size of the peanut allergen lump – to be told he isn’t allergic to anything worried me slightly. Particularly as I had seen what reaction egg had on him, what effect must peanuts have? Essentially, the ‘very busy’ specialist (who incidentally couldn’t prevent herself yawning while talking to me – I must be tragically boring!) ended up by saying, he was only 10 and as such wouldn’t be in a remote area anytime soon.

Courtesy of Stuart Miles
Courtesy of Stuart Miles

Therefore, if he did ingest something that caused a problem, he would be somewhere where an ambulance could be called, so it was fine. She did mention that if he was likely to travel anywhere remote then maybe something should be done – she didn’t elaborate. She also didn’t suggest where remote was – maybe the outback of Australia or the Mojave Desert? I would say an inner city on a Saturday night was just as likely not to have any emergency ambulances free but maybe I am just a hysterical parent!

Suffice to say, I have omitted egg, peanuts and shrimp from his diet and he and his friends are very aware of what he can and can’t eat. Am I being over cautious though? Should I make him go through the tests again? Or do the doctors know better and am I just being ridiculous? Who knows, I will just keep trying to perfect my egg-free cakes and see where we go from here.

If you have worries about allergies, let me know if you have more success than us, thanks for reading.


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