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To Find Out About Food Allergies, First Use the Right Test (April 9, 20012)

Food allergy testing has undergone critical scrutiny by many medical professionals. Some practitioners test the blood for specific antibodies while other physicians prefer skin tests. However, many medical organizations believe that a previous medical history combined with testing and a monitored food challenge provide the most conclusive results.

Allergic food reactions generally produce a variety of skin and respiratory reactions. Patients may develop reddening of the skin and itchy hives. Other individuals experience a condition known as atopic dermatitis, which causes chronic raised, reddened, dry patches on the skin. Systemic reactions to food often cause swelling of the lips, eyes and mouth that progress to throat swelling, asthma attacks and life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

Some health care providers perform blood tests that determine the presence of immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody thought to increase during an allergic reaction. IgE, attached to mast cells, signal the cells to release histamine and other chemical mediators when an allergic reaction occurs. In recent years, some physicians believed the IgG antibody played a secondary role in allergic reactions and began evaluating patient’s blood levels for the presence of this substance.

Medical journals indicate that only one to two percent of people in the U.S. suffer from food allergies. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) concurs with these results. Research indicates that the presence of IgE antibodies does not provide conclusive evidence that an allergy exists because patients may not exhibit physical symptoms. Articles published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the NIAID caution that the presence of IgG is not a proven or reliable test for conclusively diagnosing food allergies.

According to Scott Sicherer, professor of pediatrics from the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, medical history is one of the most important factors for determining food allergies. Patients having repeated reactions after consuming particular foods suggests an allergy. Health care providers may evaluate IgE levels, or perform skin prick tests, but patients having these tests might also show false positive results. Allergy experts agree that food challenge tests generally elicit the most accurate results for diagnosing food allergies. During the test, the patient consumes small samples of the suspected food over an hour’s time. If a patient suffers from a food allergy, symptoms typically appear in the presence of physicians.