Allergy Patch Test: What You Can Expect

Sneezes, sniffles, and hay fever are common symptoms of allergies associated with aero-allergens and may be seasonal in nature. Your allergist can offer specific testing and management options to help decrease symptom severity.

When it comes to the skin, allergic contact reactions can cause a host of equally bothersome symptoms including rash, itching and general skin irritation. Allergic contact reactions, like poison ivy, are often delayed in onset and may be difficult to identify on your own.

Our team specializes in the diagnosis and management of allergic contact dermatitis, and offers specific testing called patch testing to try and determine the underlying cause of symptoms.

Below we’ll walk through the steps of patch testing and what you can expect.

How Allergy Patch Testing Works

Specific, common contact allergens are applied to small circular patches and placed on your skin. Our standard panel tests for 50 common contact allergens.  These common contact allergens could be fragrances, metals, preservatives, or other compounds and elements. The patches are typically placed on the back, and left in place for 48 hours. 

There are usually 2 follow-up visits to have the reactions observed and finally the patches are removed. The skin response to each allergen allows us to determine if an allergic reaction has developed. Depending on your reactivity, we generate a printout of the allergens that caused irritation and provide you a list of common items that may contain that particular allergen. Patients are frequently surprised at the number of household products that may contain a potential irritant.

What can I expect during those 48 hours?

You should avoid bathing or activity resulting in heavy sweating during the 48 hours that the patches are on your skin, as to not disrupt their placement. The goal of this test is to see if you develop a local reaction to any of the compounds tested.

How many things can you test for?

There are some limitations to what can be tested for, but extensive patch tests may have over 100 potential contact allergens.  This is not commonly required as the majority of contact reactions occur to fewer than 50 commonly found chemicals/compounds/elements.

For example, a very common cause of contact dermatitis is a substance called Balsam of Peru, which is included in just about any over-the-counter beauty product that has a scent.  If you’re worried that your lotion, perfume, face soap, or makeup is causing your skin to breakout, an evaluation by a dermatologist would be the first step, and patch testing may be a part of your diagnostic plan.

Generally speaking, patch testing is a safe and often effective way to diagnose contact allergies. If you have any additional questions, feel free to request a consultation and our team can help schedule you for evaluation by one of our medical dermatology team members.

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