If you've been itching to find out whether you have allergies, an at-home test may be an option.
MyAllergyTest is now a widely available at-home allergy test with Food and Drug Administration clearance for 10 common allergens - substances that can cause the immune system to overreact in some people. The kit tests for Bermuda grass, cat, cedar, egg white, house dust mites, milk, mold, ragweed, Timothy grass and wheat.
The test is among an expanding array of do-it-yourself diagnostic and tracking tools. In addition to at-home pregnancy tests, there are devices to monitor blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
MyAllergyTest is for people who are curious about their allergy triggers, the company says. Users are given tools to prick a finger to collect a few drops of blood, which they mail in a special vial to the company. Users receive their confidential results in the U.S. mail or by logging on to a secure website a few days after the lab receives the sample.
The test, from ImmuneTech in Foster City, Calif., has received clearance from the FDA.
"The idea is based on affordability and accessibility to a broader population," says ImmuneTech CEO Lisa Elkins.
The over-the-counter test, with a suggested retail price of $49.95, may appeal to those who are unemployed and don't have health insurance, Elkins says.
"We never advocate that it takes the place of a physician's advice or care, but the reality is that allergy affects a large portion of the population," she says. "It remains largely undiagnosed or self-diagnosed but is a serious condition that can lead to chronic illness, such as asthma."
The test results first provide the cause of the allergy or allergies. A personalized MyAllergyPlan report offers guidance to help manage those allergies. For example, a person who is allergic to ragweed is advised to avoid mowing the lawn.
After people find out what triggers their allergies, they can prevent or treat them, the company says. The plan provides a physician finder to locate an allergist and links to allergy management products. The company recommends that an adult administer the test for those younger than 18.
Linda Cox, president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, urges caution.
"It is important that a health care professional be involved in interpreting results and directing patients with their allergy or allergy-like symptoms," says Cox, a board-certified allergist in Fort Lauderdale. She says people may have difficulty understanding the results, which may lead to inappropriate decisions.
The kit tests for 10 allergens, but people may have reactions to many other substances, Cox adds.
The company says testing for 10 allergens is a reasonable first step that keeps the cost of the test affordable. It says it is working on adding allergens to give consumers the option to request more testing.
MyAllergyTest received FDA approval for the original lab instrument in 2003. The FDA gave it over-the-counter clearance in 2006.
Before 2013, MyAllergyTest was available on a limited basis online for research to universities, through health care screeners (workplace wellness and health fairs) and a limited number of physicians. It was also available at a limited number of Meijer stores in the Midwest. It is now available nationally at major retailers and pharmacies including Meijer, Walgreens and Walmart.
The price includes the at-home test collection kit, lab fees, confidential results and a personalized allergy management plan. It is covered under Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts.
WHAT OUR TESTERS THOUGHT:
Four USA TODAY staffers who tried the test had various reactions.
• One, who did not think she had any allergies, said results showed she has a very low allergic response to cats and ragweed. She says she is satisfied with the test because she knows she has some sensitivities.
• Another tester, who has mild asthma, says she takes over-the-counter medication (Allegra) to deal with pollen, dust and animal dander. She says the test confirmed "mild" allergies to dust mites and cats, but it provided no information on her main concerns - dogs and most tree pollens, such as oak trees, which are abundant around her home. She said she didn't think the test was worth the cost.
• A third staffer mailed in a blood sample but got a return e-mail saying she did not send in enough blood. She declined to retake the test.
• The fourth tester says the company should improve the kit's funnel to make it easier to collect the blood. But she says she is satisfied with the test, which indicated she is not allergic to the 10 allergens.