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Questions to Ask Your Allergist

What Questions Should You Ask Your Allergist?

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Updated March 04, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Updated March 04, 2009
Once you’ve decided to see an allergist, your first step is finding a reputable one in your area that you can have a good relationship with. If your primary care doctor is referring you to an allergist, then you will probably see an allergist that your doctor is familiar with. Otherwise, you can find an allergist through one of the two national professional organizations for allergists in the United States: The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), or the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). You can even search for an allergist in your area by visiting UCompareHealthcare, a property of About.com.

Once you've identified some prospects, it's important to make sure the one you choose is a proper fit for you. Here, some questions to ask:

1) What was your training to become an allergist?
Just because someone calls themselves an allergist doesn’t make them one. Some physicians (such as otolaryngologists or ear-nose-throat surgeons) and alternative practitioners (such as acupuncturists or chiropractors) claim to be experts in the treatment of allergies. To be a board-certified (or board-eligible) allergist, however, means that a physician that undergone specialized training in the field of allergy and immunology in a program recognized by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

2) What ages of patients do you see?
While most practicing allergists see adults and children, some only see one or the other groups of patients. It is important to know if your allergist will see children, and if so, do they have a minimum age that they will see a patient.

3) What kinds of health insurance do you accept?
Before seeing your allergist and having testing done, it’s always important to be sure that the allergist accepts your health insurance. It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure that the allergist is part of your insurance plan, and that any testing to be done is covered by your insurance. If the allergist doesn’t contract with your insurance plan, you may be responsible for paying any part of your bill that your insurance doesn’t cover.

4) What types of allergy testing do you perform?
Formally-trained allergists usually perform skin testing, although they may also perform blood testing as a way of testing for allergies. There are many types of “allergy tests” that non-traditional allergists may perform; these are considered to be unproven and unhelpful in the diagnosis of allergies. A clue that your doctor wants to perform an unproven test is when that test is not covered by health insurance.

5) Do you prescribe allergy shots?
Most allergists prescribe allergy shots, but a good allergist should not prescribe allergy shots to every patient. Allergists make money by prescribing allergy shots, and therefore have an incentive to put patients on them. While allergy shots do provide a tremendous benefit for the treatment of allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and allergic asthma, allergy shots aren’t for everyone.

6) Do you recommend allergy shots to be given in your office, or can I give them to myself at home?
This question can be used as a test for your allergist, and can even be posed to the allergist’s office staff over the phone before the appointment. Any allergist who would allow a person to receive allergy shots at home should be avoided. While allergy shots are generally safe, they aren’t 100% safe, and the AAAAI and ACAAI require waiting periods of up to 30 minutes in a physician’s office after receiving an allergy shot in order to monitor for potentially dangerous side effects.

7) When is your office open for allergy shots?
Since allergy shots initially require you to be in the allergist’s office at least weekly for the first few months of allergy shots, convenient office hours are helpful to achieve this requirement. Also ask if the clinic gives allergy shots during the lunch hour.

8) How quickly can I be seen if I’m sick?
Some allergists are able to see you on the same day for a sick visit if needed. Other allergists don’t provide this service, but rather send you back to your regular doctor for sick visits. If you do see your allergist for a sick visit, make sure that it has something to do with the initial reason why you saw the allergist in the first place.

9) Do you use physician assistants (PAs) or nurse practitioners (NPs)?
Many allergists use PAs and NPs to see follow-up and sick patients. While this is generally considered routine in today’s healthcare environment, you should know if you’re going to see someone other than the allergist for certain visits. You can always insist on seeing the allergist, but you may have to wait longer for appointments, and may not be able to get in for sick visits right away. In my opinion, a PA or NP should never see a patient for an initial consultation or new patient evaluation, although seeing a PA or NP for routine follow-ups or sick visits is acceptable.

10) Are you available after-hours and weekends by telephone for non-emergency issues? Many allergists offer on-call telephone services for after-hours allergy issues that may arise. However, most will charge for these services. Depending on your health insurance, these after-hours telephone calls to the allergist may not be covered, meaning that you are responsible for the costs.

Learn about what questions your allergist is likely to ask you.

Source:

Buttram J, More D, Quinn J. Allergy and Immunology. The Complete History and Physical Exam Guide. 2003:53-69.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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