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Pollen Allergy

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How is Pollen Allergy Diagnosed?

Close-up image of arm during a skin prick test
A person receiving a skin prick test. A number of allergens can be tested with a skin prick test, including ragweed and grass pollens. Credit: NIAID

Skin test

A doctor with expertise in allergic diseases, known as an allergist, or other healthcare professional will use a skin prick test to find out whether you have antibodies that react to a specific allergen. These antibodies, produced by the immune system, attach to mast cells in your skin. When the allergen binds to its antibody like a lock and key, the mast cells release histamine and other chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. A skin test is simple and relatively safe, and the results are ready in minutes.

With a skin prick test, your healthcare professional uses a needle to place a tiny amount of pollen extract (liq­uid substance) just below the surface of the skin on your lower arm or back. If you are allergic, there will be swelling or redness at the test site. Although such a reaction shows that you produce antibodies to a specific allergen, you might not have the respiratory and eye symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes) of an allergic reaction.

Blood tests

Instead of the skin test, your healthcare professional can take a blood sample to measure the levels of pollen-specific antibodies your body produces.

As with skin testing, positive blood tests don't necessarily mean that you have pollen allergy.

Last Updated October 17, 2011

Last Reviewed October 11, 2011