Choosing an Allergist
Written by Colette Flory, Rebecca Fleming, JJ, Melissa Taylor, Vess
Why You May Need an Allergist
It is imperative to begin with to know why an allergist is helpful in dealing with possible food allergies. It's important to have an allergist if:
You are in school or have a job and need doctor's note(s) to explain your illness or to receive special consideration because of any special needs
You require medications such as epinephrine and/or other prescriptions
You have never been diagnosed or tested for allergies and suspect them
You need a supplementary nutritional formula
You know you have food allergies and want to be tested for other suspected food allergens (allergies can change!)
You have more than just food allergies, such as asthma or environmental
Finding an Allergist
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has a search feature online to find allergists in various countries: http://www.aaaai.org/physref/
Other places to check include the Yellow Pages of your phone book, and by asking friends (also known as "word-of-mouth"). Be forewarned that word-of-mouth advertising can be extremely misleading. I was misdirected to people who were not legitimate MD doctors when my family asked friends for ideas on who to go to for treatment. Be sure that you ask friends who have legitimately diagnosed allergies and who are satisfied with their genuine, board-certified doctor.
Before You Go
You may have a long wait before you go to see the allergist, unfortunately. Many people begin preparing for this through cutting foods from their diet, or keeping a food diary, etc. Talk to the nurse/secretary to ask if there are any suggestions that the doctor has for people before their first appointments. Ask questions, such as what kind of support staff do you have? Do you have dieticians? Do you offer counseling? Should I keep a food diary?
A few people have individually come up with an ingenious first-question test for allergists. That is to ask an allergist outright (such as over the phone before scheduling a first appointment): "What types of cures or treatments do you have available for food allergies?" When asking such a question, it's important to mention food allergies specifically (not just allergies).
What type of answer should you expect or desire? Most people would desire an answer in which an allergist says s/he has a cure and that you can be allergen-free by going to that person. However, the correct response would be for the allergist to admit that no cure exists for this condition, yet that s/he should be able to help you with certain things anyway. Someone who proports to have a cure from the get-go is probably trying to get patients and may be using non-medically-accepted treatments that could potentially be harmful.
JJ recommends the following questions to ask a new allergist before the visit:
1) Do you deal with food allergies? (Many allergists don't test for or help
with food allergies.)
2) Do you have information available for people with food allergies? (Some
doctors have food lists, resource information, etc.)
3) Do you prescribe epinephrine for severe food reactions?
4) Do you view food allergies as seriously as environmental allergies? ("I had one doctor who said 'just eat the food you're allergic to and if you have a serious reaction, use the EpiPen and go to E/R.' No big deal to him -- I could die from a serious reaction" You need a
doctor who will take food allergies seriously
Rebecca Fleming recommends looking for an allergist who is up-to-date and goes to food allergy conferences (or sends his staff to them), and an allergist who carefully listens.
Before you visit, Colette Flory recommends writing a letter to the doctor. "I wrote a
short, two-page letter to the doctor. It said who I was and how allergies had changed my life,
listed the allergies I thought I had and previous test history, and my objectives of treatment. Here is the paragraph that really helped the
doctor get it: 'Feel reassured that you, as a doctor, are doing what you can to
make sure foods are not unnecessarily being eliminated from my diet. The
foods I currently avoid are going to be avoided for the rest of my life,
many of which I either enjoy, or have trouble replacing with nutritional
equivalents. It is important for me to feel confident that my interests and
dietary requirements are considered when you are recommending me to
permanently eliminate a food from my diet.' (I worded it this way because I
had a doctor that had me avoid whole groups of foods just based on several
positive skin tests in the same food group, not on actual physical
As Vess says, "If you can find one doctor that is willing to work for the best need of the patient and direct the care that is best for you, is willing to answer questions, and admit that they may not have the answer, but will read up on it and get back to you...then you have a wonderful physician."