Food allergies are serious business. If you are the parent of a child who struggles with food allergies, you know the drill. The constant vigilance, preparing foods ahead of time for your child so they can attend a birthday party. Checking and re-checking ingredient lists at restaurants and grocery stores. Educating yourself on what to do if the worst might happen. Worrying all the time that the worst might actually happen. Well, if a new study is to be believed, it's possible that food allergies might be overdiagnosed. And this could mean a serious change for some families.
A new study put together by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine was recently published in the journal Pediatrics. The report found a fairly serious discrepancy between cases of self-reported food allergies and ones which were actually tested in a medical facility. One study noted that 12 percent of food allergy cases dwindled to just 3 percent when properly tested.
Oral food challenges were proven to be very effective when it came to diagnosing possible food allergies; in 90 percent of the reported food allergy cases tested by oral food challenged (where a child is given trace amounts of the foods they've been avoiding like eggs, peanuts, milk, tree nuts, and seafood), the children were able to eat them without concern.
Why are food allergies frequently overdiagnosed? According to the study authors, a misdiagnosis can often happen if a child has an averse reaction to food. For instance, if a child has a rash for several days after eating peanuts, this could well be a viral rash rather than an allergic reaction. According to the study, the authors noted:
In the United States, it is common for parents to avoid a food on the basis of the perception of food allergy when in fact most of the time diagnostic testing will reveal that there is none and the food could be added back to the diet.
Other reasons for a misdiagnosis can include overtesting. While testing by blood sample or a skin prick is a common way for parents to test for allergies, the 15 study authors found that these tests are ways to detect antibodies to the food. These suggest a food intolerance rather than a food allergy. Using an oral food challenge, particularly when including a placebo, is a much stronger way to test for food allergies. And knowing your own family history can often be a solid indicator of whether or not your child is at a higher risk for food allergies.
If you think your child might have food allergies, it's probably a good idea to have them tested by a medical professional — because a misdiagnosis could cause years of unnecessary struggle for you both.