Diagnosing a food allergy isn’t always simple, but the best way to do it is through an oral food challenge, according to a new study.
“It’s important to have an accurate diagnosis of food allergy so an allergist can make a clear recommendation as to what foods you need to keep out of your diet,” said study senior author and allergist Dr. Carla Davis.
“And if no allergy exists, that clears the way to reintroduce foods you may have thought were off-limits,” said Davis, an associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
During an oral food challenge, patients are asked to eat a very small amount of a suspected allergen while under the close supervision of a specially trained doctor, called an allergist. This doctor will evaluate the person for signs of an allergic reaction.
Researchers who analyzed more than 6,300 oral food challenges found these tests were safe and caused very few people to have a serious allergic reaction. Most of these tests involved children and teens younger than 18.
Of these cases, 14 percent resulted in a mild to moderate reaction that involved just one part of the body, such as a skin rash. The researchers noted that 2 percent resulted in very severe reactions that affected multiple body systems (anaphylaxis).
The results were published Sept. 7 in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
“Oral food challenges are a very important tool for anyone who wants to know if they have a food allergy,” said study lead author Dr. Kwei Akuete, an allergist at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “Our study showed [oral food challenges] are safer than prior studies estimated, and should be routinely used to help determine if a food allergy exists.”
Making a food allergy diagnosis is very important for people’s health and quality of life, the study authors said.
“Food challenges improve the quality of life for people with food allergies, even if they are positive,” Davis said in a journal news release. Delaying a diagnosis can lead to increased health costs to the patient and raise the risk for nutrition problems, especially for children, she added.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on food allergies in children.