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Is it worth getting an allergy test before travelling?

Updated: 6th December 2021

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Before setting off on a big adventure around the world, we all know to do a few things: buy insurance, check visas, and look into any vaccinations we might need. However, one thing I hadn’t considered before my big round the world trip was allergy testing.

Luckily for me, this is what my Mum used to do for work, and so she talked me through the process and tested me for a whole host of allergens. This was super insightful on its own, as it made me realise some of my dietary problems related to certain foods I ate, which for example, really helped on a food tour in Spain. Still, it also opened my eyes to the types of pollen I have stronger reactions to (and might encounter on my travels), or even  to the type of pillows I should be avoiding in hotels. 

As such, it’s something I think people should do anyway, regardless of travelling, because it can help you re-shape your life to reduce any unwanted reactions. 

Disclosure: I’m writing this from my own experience with allergy testing; however, none of the advice on this article is from a medical or qualified source and should not be used as a replacement for a proper consultation which I advise you seek. Considerations such as if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction before, certain illnesses, or are on certain medications should always be considered.

Helping yourself to Pintxos on a bar in San Helping yourself to Pintxos on a bar in San Sebatsian
Delicious dishes full of new flavours

What is an allergy?

Allergic reactions are triggered by allergens, which cover a whole variety of substances – from inhaled allergens (such as certain pollen that trigger hay fever) to digestion (like nut allergies) or a skin reaction when coming into contact with an allergen. 

Should you get an allergy test specifically for travel? 

Being aware of your allergies in day to day life (to me at least) is essential, but I also think it can come in handy when travelling. A significant example of this for me is hayfever. I only learned after my testing that hay fever isn’t triggered by all grases and can be caused by certain pollens and plants that may be more prominent in certain destinations and at different times of the year. 

Of course, when we travel as well, we are using different bedding, eating other foods, and coming into contact with various animals – all of these might trigger a reaction which we wouldn’t experience in our day to day life at home.

Is there any risk? 

Depending on the type of test you opt for, you may experience some reactions to the test. For example, skin tests where you are put into contact with an allergen may trigger itching and swelling, and if the allergy is severe, sometimes a serious reaction. Before undertaking any kind of test, consult with the provider and discuss this further. 

The more typical point to visit the Mekong Delta
Different planets and grasses contain different allergens

Types of allergy testing 

There are various types of allergies and testing, all with their own considerations. 

Blood tests work by taking a small sample and then processing it in a laboratory to look for antibodies that fight specific allergens. Doctors mainly recommend these if they believe you may have a severe reaction to a skin test and also for at-home kits.

A skin test is generally the most common option and can work in various ways, all of which monitor and see how your skin reacts to the allergen, and the assessor can advise on which is most suitable for you. For example, the scratch test involves an allergen in liquid placed on and gently piercing your skin, while a patch test instead uses patches that contain the allergen fixed  on your skin for a certain amount of hours or days. 

The last option, which is more for food-related issues, is to use an elimination diet (a kind of trial and error) where your diet is changed over a period of time to see if you do or don’t react to a change in what you are consuming. 

Through a Doctor and referral 

If you are from the UK like me, the NHS offers advice and can arrange an allergen test for you if they deem it required. This is as simple as booking a consultation with your GP, and depending on their assessment, you may be referred to an allergy testing clinic for a complete test, using one of the methods listed before. 

Of course, you can also opt for a private testing option with a qualified specialist if you would prefer not to wait or are unable to get a referral. 

A do it at home allergy testing kit from Klarify

Do it at home mail-in kit

While at home testing kits (both for allergies and anything else medical) shouldn’t be used as a guaranteed substitute for diagnoses completed by a Doctor; they are a convenient alternative for people who might already know they don’t have any severe or life-threatening allergies, don’t want to commit to an appointment, or who just want to dive deeper into the subject – as always, do your own research. 

Home kits, like the ones from Klarify, mainly work by you taking a small blood sample at home and sending the kit back into a lab to be processed. Once received, the sample is tested and compared against nearly 300 known allergens.

Testing against the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, a full report is issued within two weeks showing comprehensive results against everything the lab tests against, from different pollen to foods, animals, and other pests. These should not be confused with providers that offer IgG antibodies testing, as these can be present both in non-allergic and allergic people.

Homoeopathy allergy testing and other methods

A growing option for testing is Homeopathic testing, which uses the ‘kinesiology method’ and is only really used for foods. These are brought close to the body and then depending on how your muscles react, the allergy is assessed. This however does not have any data to support it, and thus isn’t medically recommended at all as an allergy testing method, so really consider this if you are looking into it as an option. 

Other methods that are seen as doubtful are hair testing (due to how slow hair grows) and electromagnetic testing.

As always, seek medical advice before proceeding further with your allergen testing, and I hope it will be as helpful for you as it was for me in adapting my diet and being aware of what trigger me going forwards.

*Content produced in partnership with Klarify

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