An absolute eosinophil count is a blood test that measures the number of white blood cells called eosinophils. Eosinophils become active when you have certain allergic diseases, infections, and other medical conditions.
Blood is drawn from a vein, usually on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The puncture site is cleaned with antiseptic, and an elastic band is placed around the upper arm to apply pressure and restrict blood flow through the vein. This causes veins below the band to fill with blood.
A needle is inserted into the vein, and the blood is collected in an air-tight vial or a syringe. During the procedure, the band is removed to restore blood flow. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.
For an infant or young child, the area is cleansed with antiseptic and punctured with a sharp needle or a lancet. The blood may be collected in a pipette (small glass tube), on a slide, onto a test strip, or into a small container. Cotton or a bandage may be applied to the puncture site if there is any continued bleeding.
In the laboratory, the blood is placed on a microscope slide. A stain added to the sample causes eosinophils to show as orange-red granules. The technician then counts how many eosinophils are present per 100 cells. The percentage of eosinophils is multiplied by the white blood cell count to give the absolute eosinophil count.
How to prepare for the test
No special preparation is necessary for adults.
Certain medicines may cause you to have an increase in eosinophils. Such medicines include:
Amphetamines (appetite suppressants)
Certain laxatives containing psyllium
How the test will feel
When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people may feel moderate pain. Others may feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Why the test is performed
Your doctor may order an eosinophil count if the results of another blood test, called a blood differential, are abnormal. This test may also be done if the doctor thinks you may have a specific disease.
This test may help diagnose:
Acute hypereosinophilic syndrome (a rare but sometimes fatal leukemia-like condition)
A lower-than-normal eosinophil count may be due to:
Over production of certain steroids in the body (such as cortisol)
What the risks are
There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:
Fainting or feeling light-headed
Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
The eosinophil count usually helps confirm, rather than make, a diagnosis. It can not tell if an increase is caused by allergy or parasite infection.
Hoffman R, Benz Jr. EJ, Shattil SJ, et al., eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingston; 2005:768.
McPherson RA and Pincus MR. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2007:474.
Todd Gersten, M.D., Hematology/Oncology, Palm Beach Cancer Institute, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.