Fact: Food allergies are on the rise.
Fact: Food intolerances are on the rise.
Fact: Medical costs are expensive.
Fact: False-negative and false-positive allergy test results exist.
With the increase in food allergy cases in the last decade, awareness of food allergies have correspondingly increased (somewhat). Furthermore, there has been a drift toward greater awareness in recent years of our food. As a society, we are more interested in our food sources and what we’re consuming than in previous decades. There is a growing trend to get back to “real food,” while at the same time, preservative and additive-rich processed foods are still in high demand.
Yet, with these trends, there has also been a trend toward a “food allergy fad diet.” Considering the desensitization this new fad diet could have on those individuals who actually suffer from life-threatening food allergies, I am emphatically and unapologetically against such a trend. However, let me go on the record as saying that there is nothing wrong with cutting back on certain groups of food because you feel better (for example, gluten, corn, or dairy). A well-balanced diet from the purest sources is a good thing.
Having said that, there are varying degrees of food allergies and food intolerances. (You can read the difference between food allergies and food intolerance here.) In my own home, my son has life-threatening food allergies, while my husband has irritating and uncomfortable food allergies. They both avoid the foods to which they are allergic, but my husband isn’t going to die from eating a PB & J.
Whether the reason is a suspected food allergy or food allergy fad diet, there are medical laboratory companies developing and marketing at-home food allergy tests. You simply prick your finger and send your blood sample back to the lab. They send you test results (based on IgG) that range from the actual IgG numerical levels to words like “safe,” “negative,” or “avoid.” The costs range from $50 to $200 or more for a panel test. The panels can test any where from the top 10 allergens to over 200 allergens. The question is, are these at-home allergy testing kits safe? Are they reliable? A finger prick, that’s all, really?
When researching for this post, I was actually amazed at the number of testing kits on the market. I know people who have used these kits. I have also read a lot of fear that goes along with these home testing kits among the medical and allergy-advocacy groups. I agree with much of this concern because something as life-threatening as food allergies should not be taken lightly, especially when it concerns your child. I do not pretend to believe that doctors are all-knowing, infallible beings. On the contrary, there are very few doctors that I do trust, but one of those is my son’s allergist, thankfully. (If finding an allergist that you can trust is an issue, I highly encourage you to keep trying until you do.)
One company, MyAllergyTest, defends its product by saying that it allows concerned people to take their health care into their own hands. Yet, they say that the test should not be used to self-diagnose, but only be used in consultation with a doctor. My question, then, is what’s the point? Seriously, I want to know. Doctors have said that they don’t trust the reliability of the tests and would probably retest a patient. Furthermore, the company says that while a person might have all negative results, this does not necessarily indicate that they are free of allergies. They recommend being under the direction of a doctor. Again, what’s the point of the at-home test then?
The first post in this series stated the importance of getting the whole picture when diagnosing food allergies. This whole picture may include a blood test, skin, test, food challenge, and/or more methods. Relying solely on an at-home mailed-to-a-lab finger prick blood test to get a diagnosis for potentially life-threatening food allergies is, well, harmful.
Am I on a soapbox? Perhaps. But having dealt with life-threatening food allergies and several anaphylactic reactions in my son’s short life, I am not interested in or supportive of anything less than sound medical advice where it concerns my son.
I’m sure there are some of you that disagree with me. That is fine. I am very interested in your opinion. Perhaps you’ve actually used an at-home allergy test. I’d love to hear your experience. I always try to be open toward further education.
Read more on an ABC News report of at-home allergy tests here.