Itching for a Cause

If you have symptoms, a doctor can help you find the cause with a medical diagnosis. A board-certified allergist (certified by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology) is best equipped to diagnose food allergies. Never try to self-diagnose. Someone with a food allergy should be under a doctor's care.

True food allergies can be measured and evaluated clinically—with no need for "hunches." In that way unrelated medical conditions are eliminated. Typically the diagnosis includes a medical history, a physical exam, and possibly a food diary, elimination diet, and laboratory tests. As an initial screening your doctor may use a skin test; an allergist will confirm a food allergy with more definitive tests. Check "Pass the Test?" later in this chapter.

Keeping track of how your body reacts to a specific food one time after another may help you detect a food allergy or intolerance on your own. But be careful about self-diagnosis. The cause may be a more serious medical problem. Eliminating groups of foods from your eating pattern because you suspect a food allergy is not a smart idea. Sweeping dietary changes based only on a "hunch" may keep you from getting the nutrients and other food substances needed for good health!

For the Record

Suspect a food allergy? During a medical exam you'll likely need to describe your symptoms and give some medical history to unravel the mystery. Be prepared to answer such questions as:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • How long does it take for symptoms to appear after eating the food in question?
  • How much of the food must you eat before you get a reaction?
  • Do symptoms occur whenever you eat the food?
  • Do other factors, such as physical activity or drinking alcoholic beverages, bring on symptoms?

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