The conventional tests used by doctors to test for allergies, whilst not always 100% accurate, are used because they are the most proven and reliable tests that exist. If a better method were found after thorough scientific testing and trials, it would become ‘conventional’. It is important to remember that true allergies can sometimes be life-threatening, and for this reason, if you suspect that you or your child has an allergy then it is important to make an appointment to see your doctor so that the matter can be investigated using conventional methods, and an appropriate method of managing the condition started upon.
Types of non-conventional tests
For those who are interested in non-conventional methods of diagnosis, complementary and alternative medicine practitioners (CAMS) offer a wide range of diagnostic methods, some of which can be quite expensive. Although it is perhaps possible that some aspects of some of these tests may one day be proved to be helpful, none of them have been clinically proven to be anything like as accurate or reliable as accepted tests such as skin testing, blood test or patch testing for allergies. Some would go so far as saying that some of the more unorthodox tests listed below are of no value whatsoever.
Examples of non-conventional tests include:
- Cytotoxic testing (sometimes called Bryans’ or ALCAT testing)
During this process, white blood cells/blood from the patient is mixed with powdered food on a microscope slide to see whether the cells change shape after exposure to the allergen. This method was quite widely used in the 1980s but has generally fallen out of favour because controlled scientific studies found it to be unreliable.
This measures whether muscles are weakened when a patient is exposed to an allergen. The allergen is placed in a glass container close to the patient. The arm or shoulder of the patient is then tested for weakness.
- Vega testing (sometimes called electro dermal skin testing)
A Vega machine measures the electromagnetic conductivity of the body when exposed to an allergen. The patient holds one electrode in one hand and the other electrode is applied to acupuncture points on the body. A glass container with food in it is incorporated into the electrical circuit. Practitioners of this method presume that a fall in the body’s electromagnetic conductivity mean that an allergy is present.
- Hair analysis
It is possible to find adverts from various outlets offering to test your hair samples for levels of certain metals such as lead and mercury or to check for nutritional deficiencies. Practitioners of this method believe that the results may indicate presence of an allergy.
- Hair dowsing
During hair dowsing a pendulum is swung over the hair. Practitioners believe that hair of persons with particular conditions gives off a particular type of energy which they claim to be able to detect by the swing of the pendulum being altered.
- Auriculo cardiac tests / The Auricular Cardiac Reflux Method
This test works is founded on the belief that the pulse rate increases when a person is exposed to something to which they are allergic.
- Blood tests for IgG antibody/ IgG ELISA
These tests are not to be confused with blood tests looking at IgE antibodies, which may form part of a conventional medical diagnosis. IgG antibodies are frequently produced when people eat certain foods, but conventional medicine does not accept that this means that the person is having an allergic reaction.
- Stool analysis
Some CAM practitioners might offer to test stool samples for presence of parasites and organisms which they say might be the cause of an allergy.
Problems associated with non-conventional tests
Many allergies carry with them a risk of anaphylaxis, a severe, often sudden reaction where the body goes into shock. It can be life-threatening and should always be treated as a medical emergency. Therefore it is vital to be aware, by use of conventional diagnostic methods, if you do have an allergy so that you can avoid the risk of anaphylaxis as much as possible and be prepared if it does happen. In no circumstances should somebody with a potentially life-threatening allergy such as fish, peanut or tree-nut allergy, be exposed directly to the suspected allergens during diagnostic testing without a fully qualified doctor present who has the necessary emergency medication and equipment at hand.
Most of the conventional tests for detecting allergies are not 100% accurate. A properly trained doctor will be aware of this and the results of any tests they refer you for will be interpreted with reference to a wider picture taking into account your general health and full medical history. CAMs providing non-conventional tests will not have had the thorough medical training of a doctor specialising in allergies and they may claim that their diagnostic methods are flawless.
Some people with allergies which they feel are aggravated by stress might find it helpful to try out relaxation techniques sometimes offered by CAM practitioners, but where this happens it should be complementary to rather than a substitute for a medically recognised, scientifically proven diagnosis and treatment.