Over-Diagnosing of Food Allergies

“One positive allergy test result does not a food allergy make,” states Dr. Hugh Sampson, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine regarding a paper published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Author of this paper, Dr. Marc Riedl, an allergist and immunologist a the University of California in LA says the true incidence of food allergies is far less than the number of people who believe they have one. He says “roughly half of the people who believe they have an allergy, do not.”

There are a few reasons for this, and some are self diagnosing where the cause is actually heartburn or food intolerance, or doctors who have misinterpreted allergy test results. Skin testing isn’t really a reliable method for food allergy testing, we are finding out. Both skin tests and blood tests only indicate whether the body produces enough antibodies to fight the food, but that doesn’t meant there is intolerance or allergy.

Another finding of this paper is that there is “no unified definition of what a food allergy is or how to test for it reliably.” Many people consider an intolerance an allergy, even though there are no life threatening aspects about it.

Diagnosing has increased dramatically over the past few years and though eating foods that cause allergic reactions certainly is dangerous and needs to be be avoided, avoiding foods that are not dangerous has its own health issues. Not only are nutritional deficiencies caused, for instance, poor bone growth from avoiding dairy, but also it is stressful and difficult.  A lot of effort is put into avoidance, checking labels and restaurants, bringing your own food to social events. And because food plays such a large role in our society, there are the social repercussions as well – parents are more fearful for their children who have supposed allergies and it can become quite isolating for both adults and children.

Riedl also says overdiagnosis “leads to some trivialization of this condition and people start to associate a food allergy with dislike of a food or mild intolerance,” which makes people take true food allergies less seriously.

So what do you do? How do you know if you are your child is truly allergic? The “gold standard” Riedl says, is the oral food challenge. The food is actually ingested under observation and reaction is observed. Other than that, it is up to the individual to decide how he will handle his allergy. I know we have been taking my daughter’s less seriously whether she is growing out of it, her NAET was successful, or because perhaps it never was a true allergy. She still doesn’t eat nuts, but we don’t check labels so much or worry as much either. It’s tough, though, and I have to say I sometimes about when she is older and on her own.

Will she always have an Epipen, will she always wonder and check? Or one day will we do the oral food challenge? It’s tough, we want to be safe, have our children safe, but is it a bit overdone these days? Something to think about…

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