Testing Eczema Triggers: What Tests are Reliable?

Why don’t Doctors Test My Child for Allergy?

So, your child has eczema and you are literally pulling your hairs trying to figure out what her triggers might be. Yet, your doctor sees that her rash is localized on her face and feel that it can be food residue or saliva that irritates her skin so does not bother to test her. Or that your doctor may tell you about those ‘common’ or ‘top’ allergens that affect most children with eczema (e.g. cow’s milk, egg, soy, wheat, gluten, dust mite, pollen, pet dander, etc.) so for something that you have already known, there is no real need to test.

Very often, majority of negative reactions to food are food sensitivity. This is given a low priority in investigation because they are rarely life threatening. However, they are life altering because cumulatively, they do affect the development of a condition over time and quality of life of the affected child and her family members. 

As discussed in various articles in our Eczema Diet, Nutrition and Allergies Series, every child is biologically unique and different. This is true when it comes to their individual reactions to various exposure to foods, chemicals or environment. If you are going crazy after traveling through days to days and meals to meals; yet having no success of working out which foods are doing your child good and which ones are causing more harm than good. Don’t drive yourself nuts – just seek out allergy tests with your doctor or a lab to help you navigate this process easier, allowing you a peace of mind and helping your stress out.

The Variety of Allergy Tests

Before we go in depth into each allergy test, you need to be aware that there are many contended views and arguments supporting or reproving some of these tests. We will attempt to provide views from both ends but do be mindful that our recommendations will be biased towards past experiences that we had with these allergy tests:

1. Oral Food Test or Food Challenge
This is the ‘gold standard’ of diagnosing food allergies. Food Challenge tests by having you remove a suspected food from your child’s diet for a period of time and records her symptoms (or a lack of) and then re-introducing that food back into her diet and observe if the symptoms return. In other word, the old-fashioned way of ‘eat it and see how you feel’.

In a way, it is very much similar to the methods of investigating a trigger using a Foods & Symptoms Journal as described in A Parent’s Practical Tips to Identify Eczema Triggers. The difference is that in Oral Food Challenge, it isn’t done at home but in the presence of a doctor. As you will also realize by now, this process is slow, tedious and time consuming; but is reasonably accurate and personalized to your child.

2. IgE Tests
These tests aim to identify the presence of IgE antibodies to a particular food or substance. IgE is short for ‘Immunoglobulin E’, an antibody that triggers food allergy symptoms. You can think of IgE antibody as a protector of our immune system against intruders. When one becomes sensitized after being exposed to an allergen e.g. a specific food, her body will produce IgE antibodies that cause allergic reaction in that child.

There are two common methods of testing IgE:

  • Skin Prick Test – The doctor pricks a little food onto one’s skin by scratching the skin underneath. If there is an IgE response, it will set off inflammation to that exposed skin area.
  • Blood Test – The doctor draws some blood and tests it in lab for presence of IgE antibodies.

These tests are thought not to be accurate at all times. For skin pricks, 50% of the tests may give a false positive. It means that people who are tested ‘positive’ but do not actually have an allergic reaction. The same happens to the IgE blood test. Furthermore, IgE tests cannot test all sorts of allergies and for those delayed reactions that do not involve IgE antibodies, they will not show up on IgE test.

3. IgG Tests or ELISA Test
This is a test that is available in independent lab to test IgG antibodies. IgG is the most abundant type of antibodies among 5 other subclasses found in body fluids, protecting us against infection. By measuring IgG antibodies to a specific food, it is said that it can also measure how much ‘attack’ on your skin is mounted against food protein. This may be useful in identifying reactions involving IgG.

Opponents refuted that this test does not work because we are looking at the wrong antibodies because many people develop IgG antibodies to food they eat and is a normal non-specific response indicating ‘exposure’ to food – not ‘sensitization’ nor ‘allergy’. It is therefore unclear whether high level of IgG after exposure to certain food is indicative of an immune reaction or an immune tolerance.

4. ALCAT Test
ALCAT stands for ‘Antigen Leukocyte Cellular Antibody Test’. This blood test measures change in white blood cell size after exposure to a certain allergen. It indirectly measures mediator release which leads to symptoms. Any change in the leukocyte cells, such as flattening, swelling or fragmentation in response to an allergen is considered as evidence of intolerance. ALCAT test has shown an 83% correlation with double-blind oral challenge and is useful in identifying most food sensitivity reactions.

Opponents say that they do not pick up food allergies or those involving lymphocytes due to their small sizes. They argue that a lack of peer-reviewed studies to support this methodology as a diagnostic test and question its clinical relevance. The fact that the result of the sample is subject to interpretation by the lab technician arguably mean that the result cannot be consistent nor reproducible.

That said, our personal experience with ALCAT had shown more than 75% accuracy in results consistent with that from the bioresonance feedback.

If you have no easy access to other more viable ways of testing, this may be one that can be further explored to test for foods or chemical sensitivities. ALCAT test is available at PathLab Malaysia in different packages but the cost of undertaking this test is quite expensive.

5. Applied Kinesiology Test or Muscle Testing
Applied Kinesiology relies on energy fields within the body to diagnose allergy or intolerance and is popular among Chiropractor. In this test, a person is tested her muscle strength while holding a vial containing a suspected allergen. Shoulder strength is tested for weakness. If she is unable to resist the counter pressure on the other arm – meaning her body is imbalanced – her indicator muscle will test weak.

This method of testing defies the conventional blood or allergy tests that are known among doctors. The premise of how muscle testing (as used by many alternative practitioners) works is based on the meridian principles of detecting abnormal energy or ‘Qi’ blockages that disrupt the normal energy pathways with which we were born with.

The principles of Qi and energy fields have evolved for centuries. Everything and everyone has its individual vibrational frequency and if brought within contact with your own energy field, they may or may not be compatible. If it is not, it will gradually weaken you and cause an imbalanced state that may manifest in various symptoms. This manifestation caused by this imbalance or energy blockage is termed ‘allergy’. The ‘allergy’ understood in this context is very different from the ‘allergy’ in the conventional medical text.

Opponents cannot accept muscle testing as a reliable means of testing for allergy or intolerance because there is little or no scientific rationale for this method. Results are contended to be non-reproducible and do not correlate with clinical evidence of allergy.

In our past experience had indicated that muscle testing can serve as a valuable tool for investigating triggers when it is performed by an experienced kinesiologist. The beauty about using kinesiology to test (when performed properly) is that you can literally test anything and everything, not subject to the limitations and restrictions of IgE, IgG or ALCAT tests that are based on certain panels of selected food items. You may also combine any two or more suspected items and test your muscle strength or weakness. Furthermore, it is non-invasive; which may worth a try for babies or toddlers.

6. Bioresonance Test
Bioresonance test works through the body’s energetic system. Based on quantum physics, all living cells of the body, including viruses, toxins, bacteria, etc. emit electromagnetic waves. Depending on the nature, each has a different specific wavelength or frequency. Generally speaking, it will first establish a baseline or reference value and this value is measured according to changes in your health when tested against the frequencies of various foods or substances. If there is a change of frequency that deviates from the reference value, it then records an ‘allergic’ reaction (think ‘allergy’ in the sense of a disharmony).

There are various ways of testing via bioresonance feedback, either involves skin contact with a magnetic electrodes or hair analysis – to collect information from your body for reading frequency in biofeedback mode with that from substance tested. Regardless of the variations, this test method is typically painless and non-invasive.

In Malaysia and Singapore, a comprehensive hair analysis that uses Bioresonance to test for intolerances up to 600 different types of food and non-food items is available. It measures the electromagnetic energy of hair sample exposed to that item. The test result will reveal all items which have shown an intolerance of 85% and over. Hair samples are used because it is believed that it stores information for longer period of time.

Opponents treat bioresonance therapy as a pseudoscience, not supported by any scientific or factual evidence nor published by appropriate scientific methods. Nonetheless, it is with an open mind that we encourage you to exercise your judgment during decision making rather than approaching this with a pre-existing assumption. If we already know the application of electromagnetic fields to the body just like how heat or light affect us and how we use x-rays, there is no denying that it does have an effect to certain extent.

Proponents have found that biofeedback is able to catch ‘problems’ before it turns symptomatic. The same problems can manifest differently for different person despite being in the exact same circumstance because their genetic expressions are different. In bioresonance, the same test cannot be reproduced because ‘you’ have already ‘changed’ after your initial test. This explains why the first test is usually the most accurate test as well.

Role of Allergy Tests

The various tests described above are to offer you an awareness and insight on the various tests available and how they work. We had also discussed the pros and cons of these tests and now, it will be up to your discretion to decide which may work for you.

To sum these up, we believe that there is a role of allergy tests in helping you work towards improving the condition of your child’s eczema (it doesn’t just apply to eczema but any cases or manifestations of food allergy or intolerance!). If you are suffering a ‘life of misery’ or have no clues after trying so hard to figure your child’s triggers, one or more of the above tests can be valuable. Either they can validate your suspicion or provide an initial list of allergens which you can take further and confirm with your own oral challenge – do keep an open mind and explore these test options that best fit your requirements and circumstances. 

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