Food Allergy Home Test

Fact: Food allergies are on the rise.

Fact: Food intolerances are on the rise.

Fact: Medical costs are expensive.

Fact: No allergy testing method is without its strengths and weaknesses.  Read the previous posts on allergy skin test here and allergy blood test here.

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.

Post shared at Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Hearth and Home Blog Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, and Homestead Barn Hop.

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10 Responses to Food Allergy Home Test

  1. Ursula says:

    “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.”

    They state this on all their packaging and literature to comply with labeling laws enforced by FDA. If they did not, the test would be considered an unapproved medical device.

    • Cook says:

      Of course, of course, labeling laws. Although I still agree with the premise that self-diagnosis, particularly if it pertains to a life-threatening case, could be dangerous.

      Thanks for setting me straight :)

  2. I’ve never used an at-home allergy test, but I’d have to say I don’t think I want to. Our results were confusing, and I was glad to have the doctor’s advice about them.

    Also, just wanted to let you know that I mentioned you in my latest post… and you are the latest recipient of the Triple Cute Blog Award!

    http://allergyfreecookery.blogspot.com/2011/11/triple-cute-blog-award-and-follower.html

    Cheers! Lisa

    • Cook says:

      Thanks for the shout-out, Lisa. I’m with you, there are some things I will take into my own hands and some things that I won’t. As far as the severity of my son’s food allergies, I already am stressed enough over it without throwing self-diagnosis into the mix.

  3. sandy toe says:

    Just go to the doctors!

    Just like the UTI kits- great, that I spend $20.00 to find out that I have one BUT then I still have to go to a doctors to get and antiobiotic!

    Just a money maker!

    Sandy toesies!

    • Cook says:

      Nice to see you around again, Sandy Toes! I got caught up on your blog today. I’m glad to hear your daughter is doing better.

      You have said it so nice and plain for all the readers here. I’m sure you’re right about it just being another money maker. Just like Hollywood is jumping onto allergies & celiac as a fad diet, companies are making it into something to further fill their pockets. It’s not a diet! It’s a dangerous disease!

  4. Food allergies definitely are a pertinent topic at the moment. Thank you for sharing this thought provoking post with the Hearth and Soul hop.

  5. Swathi says:

    Thanks for sharing a nice post with Hearth and soul blog hop.

  6. Kirsten says:

    For me, personally, a blood test was helpful. I already had realized that I had IGG reactions to wheat (common in my family). It’s not life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable and hard to function (do anything besides lay in bed)… as well as extremely fatiguing. I don’t know if it was allergies or virus-induced CFS, but for a while (months), I couldn’t stand up for more than 10-15 minutes many days without nearly passing out. I got the gluten out of my diet, but was not improving health-wise… I was just avoiding side effects from eating wheat. My family had me go for a blood test that has been helpful for other family members, and I came back with 34 allergens (which is an unusual result for that test — the booklet & DVDs that they supplied about how to replace foods and plan meals were mostly useless for me, since they are used to people with 1-3 allergies, and almost always less than 10 allergies). Another family member came back with 31, and there are other people in the family with gluten, yeast and other reactive foods. Was I absolutely certain that I was allergic to all 34 of those things? No. However, I have tried to re-introduce some of the foods after a few months and “failed” (seemed to have reactions) with only a couple of successes, and some of the foods on the test I already had a sneaking suspicion that I had a problem with. (According to the test, my blood reacted the most to wheat, dairy (cow and goat), peanuts and tomatoes… I already knew that I had a wheat problem, I was tending to get the sniffles right after having dairy, and tended to “crave” tomatoes). Given family history as well as problems with re-introducing food, it seems like at least a large portion of the test is probably correct, and with my range of allergies, I never would have figured this out with a restriction diet (as some of my allergies were to foods that are supposed to be pretty “hypoallergenic”). Since starting the diet, I have improved a lot. I was initially diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but now only have low-grade aches and am able to finish dance classes (modern, lyrical and hip hop) without getting light-headed and exhausted. Almost no more random sore throats, fevers, etc. In addition to other lifestyle changes, I think that the testing and diet change has really helped. As far as “finger-prick” tests, I don’t know… The test that I take requires the blood to be drawn and centrifuged… which I think allows it to last better when mailed… and they take a vial of it. For friends who suspect that they have IGG allergies, I usually recommend removing foods that they think are a problem for a couple of weeks and then re-introducing them to see if they react (because if it is just a small issue, it doesn’t really matter if it is an IGG reaction or intolerance… they are just looking to feel a bit better)… If they are very sick and having difficulty functioning (as I was), then a test might be more appropriate… And with IGE allergies, I think that it is better to be under the care of an allergist, since these are much more serious if you get them wrong. Getting an IGG allergy wrong might mean that you end up in bed for a couple of weeks with severe “stomach flu” (as my mom does whenever a restaurant accidently gives her wheat), and also might result in long-term, chronic inflammation… but at least there is no trip to the hospital… I don’t think that the blood test is the “be all, end all” test for allergies (I don’t think that there is a truly reliable test yet for food allergies), but it gave me a good starting point for getting a better handle on health problems. I also think that it is like any consumer product — find out who the lab is, if any independent tests have been done to determine their reliability, and what consumers say about their tests on other websites. Some labs are better than others (even for standard tests), and it is up to the consumer and their doctor as to whether you feel like you need the high-tech test… I am fortunate not to have IGE reactions at this point, and that is a whole other thing which I can’t really speak to. But as far as testing, I think that it is strange to say that because it is not 100% accurate, then it is not useful as is often said for the IGG test. There are a lot of medical tests that aren’t very reliable or accurate yet… but they attempt to give us a clue as to what is going on inside the body so that we have a place to start on the path to healing… I have learned that the immune system is not something to be trifled with (a lot of diseases seem to be related to inflammation or auto-immunity), so I think that it is great that we at least have some tools to figure things out… and I have great hopes for the research that is currently being done to understand the immune system better…

    • Cook says:

      Kirsten,

      Thank you so much for your perspective on this. Things do get very crazy when you start going down the road of dozens upon dozens of food allergies/intolerances. I feel for you. I agree with you, keep the research coming. Our bodies are such an intricate host of detail that it’s amazing what they’re uncovering everyday.

      Michelle

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