Allergy Technician Career Guide

The Basics

It’s springtime and the flowers are blooming, the trees are getting their leaves back after a long winter, and the grass is starting to turn green. The sun is shining, and it’s a beautiful day. The only problem is that along with all the beauty and warmth that comes with spring also comes pollen and other allergens that cripple many people’s ability to function normally.

Whether it’s a runny nose, itchy eyes, watery eyes, or uncontrollable sneezing, people with allergies have many obstacles to deal with when spring rolls around. Not only that, but many people have other types of allergies that aren’t dependent upon the season, such as allergies to foods, medicines, and animals.

Fortunately for people that suffer from allergies, medical professionals like allergy technicians are available to shed light on how to effectively deal with allergies. Through patient interviews, allergy testing, and administration of allergy medications, allergy technicians can help people breathe easier and enjoy life without worry of when the next allergy attack will hit.

What is an Allergy Technician?

An allergy technician is a medical practitioner who works in allergy medicine. Allergy medicine involves testing, diagnosis, and treatment of allergies. Most allergy technicians are specialized medical assistants that work under the direction of a doctor. Typically, allergy technicians work in a medical practice. In some cases, they may work in a clinic or other outpatients setting. A small number of allergy technicians may also work in private hospitals.

Allergy technicians have additional training and expertise to perform the duties in an allergy practice. They have knowledge about respiratory medicine and skin and food allergies. Their expertise makes them a better fit to work with a board-certified allergist than a general medical assistant.

Although allergy technicians may work in varied types of medical office practices, such as in family practice or pediatrics, most work in a medical office for an allergist.

What Does an Allergy Technician Do?

The exact responsibilities of an allergy technician may vary depending on the medical practice. Typically, an allergy technician may perform a variety of clinical tasks to help an allergist’s practice run efficiently.

Clinical responsibilities may vary, but often include tasks before the patient is seen by the allergist and during and after an appointment. For example, allergy technicians may prepare the exam room for the allergist. Preparing the room often involves gathering the needed equipment and supplies, along with the patient’s medical information. Technicians may also take vital signs and a medical history before the exam.

During the exam, allergy technicians may assist the doctor or staff with certain procedures, such as skin tests, blood draws, and allergy shots. In some cases, allergy techs perform specialized tests that can help diagnose an allergy, such as basic spirometry to measure lung function. Allergy techs may also perform allergy skin testing.

Some allergy technicians may prepare medications, such as injections and allergy serums. They might also provide patient education. For example, techs may help patients develop ways to decrease allergens and help reduce symptoms. Allergy technicians also often teach patients about allergy medication including possible side effects.

Depending on the size of the medical practice, some allergy technicians also have administrative responsibilities, which help a medical office run effectively. For instance, technicians schedule patients for allergy testing, order supplies, and handle billing. Allergy techs may also maintain and organize patient’s medical records.

Why Do We Need Allergy Technicians?

Allergy technicians are needed to help doctors diagnose and treat allergies. Without allergy technicians, doctors or nurses would have to perform the testing. Nurses and physicians are often needed to perform other tasks.

Techs assume some of the responsibilities and duties from physicians, which frees them up to perform more complex testing and develop allergy treatment plans. Allergy technicians play a vital role in cost-effective and timely testing, which allows for an accurate diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

Allergies need to be diagnosed quickly for several reasons.  Without a proper diagnosis, patients may not know what they are allergic to or how to control symptoms. Once testing is complete, patients are taught which medications to use, along with ways to decrease allergens and prevent symptoms. In some instances, allergies can be severe. Identifying a serious allergy quickly, helps patients prevent a life-threatening emergency.

Why are the Requirements to Become an Allergy Technician?

Educational Requirements

There are no specific allergy technician programs. Instead, individuals interested in becoming an allergy technician should obtain a medical assisting certification. Aspiring allergy technicians should look for a medical assisting program that is accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health.

Typically, medical assisting programs can be completed in one to two years. General classes in an MA program include medical terminology, anatomy, and pharmacology.

Depending on the medical assisting program, specialty classes may also be an option, which allows students to focus on areas of interests. For those interested in becoming an allergy technician, it is helpful to take specialty classes, such as introduction to skin and patch testing, food allergies in children, and performing spirometry.

Most medical assisting programs require an internship under the direction of a certified medical assistant. Medical assistants who want to work as allergy technicians after graduation should try to obtain an internship at an allergist’s practice. During an internship, aspiring allergy technicians will have the opportunity to learn how to perform many of the tasks needed for the job, such as skin testing and basic lung function tests.

Certification

After completing a formal medical assisting program, the next step to becoming an allergy technician is to pass a certification exam. Although allergy technicians are not required to be certified as medical assistants, most allergists prefer to hire individuals with a certification. Certification can be obtained through a few different professional organizations including the National Center for Competency Testing and the American Association of Medical Assistants.

What Skills are Required for an Allergy Technician?

Communication Skills:  Allergy technicians have varying job duties depending on the setting in which they work.  They must often discuss a patient’s condition with them including discussing medical interventions that have been prescribed by a doctor, discuss exposure to allergens and the like.  They may make notes in a patient’s file regarding this information. They may assist the doctor during the medical visit, and may speak with patients regarding their allergy symptoms and coping with their allergies.

Knowledge and Comfort With Medical Terminology:  Whether developed on the job or through formal study, an allergy technician must be fluent and comfortable with medical terminology and jargon.

Ability to Administer Tests and Collect Samples: In some settings an allergy technician must be able to administer allergy tests to patients and to make preliminary evaluations of test results. Most of these tests are skin tests where a small amount of an allergen is injected directly under the skin on the forearm through a small puncture or scratch test. An allergy technician may also help prepare the allergen tinctures and serums for testing. This requires the ability to follow detailed instructions clearly and completely.

Educational Skill Set: An allergy technician position usually requires at least a community college certificate as a medical assistant.  This is usually a one or two year set of courses designed to impart general medical knowledge necessary for the position.

How Much Does an Allergy Technician Earn?

According to the employment website Glassdoor, the average salary for clinical allergy technicians was slightly was over $39,200 in 2016. But it’s also important to understand that allergy tech wages also depend on experience and location.

Since allergy technicians are specialized medical assistants, it’s also helpful to look at the salary of an MA. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median earnings for medical assistants in 2016 was just over $32,800. Allergy technicians that have earned a certified as a medical assistant will also likely earn higher pay than those without certification.

Allergy technicians who work in outpatient settings, such as a clinic, can expect to earn slightly higher wages. The highest earners were those who worked in junior colleges, which involves teaching medical assisting and allergy technician classes.

Geographic location also affects earnings. States that pay the highest wages for medical assistants including allergy technicians include Alaska, Massachusetts, and Washington.

What Careers are Similar to Allergy Technician?

Certified Medical Assistant:  A certified medical assistant performs a combination of medical and administrative tasks depending upon whether the assistant works in a doctor’s office, a clinic, or a hospital.  In general, the assistant will measure vital signs such as blood pressure and weight and will often take initial information from the patient pertaining to the reason for the patient visit and will record information obtained into the patient’s chart. The assistant may also be in the examination room during the examination if requested by the doctor or patient. Such is often the case during a routine OB/GYN exam.

Laboratory Technician: Lab technicians work in a variety of medical and scientific lab settings.  As such, a lab technician’s duties will vary somewhat depending on the setting. A lab technician may collect samples for testing, may run lab tests and record their findings. This includes the calibration of testing equipment, preparing solutions for testing and obtaining samples from patients.  Depending on the setting, a lab technician may work with or without direct supervision.

Orthodontic Clinical Assistant:  The orthodontic clinical assistant is often the first person that a patient meets in an orthodontist’s office.  Besides greeting the patient, the assistant will help gather information for the patient’s chart and will enter that information. In addition, the assistant will often take x-rays, tighten braces, help clean a patient’s teeth before and during the braces process, and will fit the mold for braces. In many offices, the assistant will actually put the braces on in preparation for the orthodontist who will then come in and move the braces into the exact position that the orthodontist wants. This is a certified job requiring special education. It is a job with a fair amount of autonomy and independence and is often a gratifying job.

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