NIH panel publishes new guidelines for food allergy diagnosis

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food allergy Allergy

New guidelines for diagnosing food allergies aim to reduce the risk of inaccurate diagnoses and provide consistent treatment strategies, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Food allergy is considered a major health problem in the United States, and its prevalence is thought to be on the rise. Recent research suggests that nearly five percent of children under the age of five are affected, as well as about four percent of teenagers and adults – however concerns have also been raised that there could be an overreliance on blood tests for food allergies, meaning that diets may be unnecessarily restricted.

The new guidance document was released by an expert panel sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and is the result of two years of work from 34 professional medical organizations, federal agencies, and patient advocacy groups.

"Food allergy affects millions of Americans, and these individuals seek care from a wide variety of health care providers,"​ said NIAID director Anthony Fauci. "Because these guidelines provide standardized, concise recommendations on how to diagnose and manage food allergy and treat acute food allergy reactions across specialties, we expect both clinicians and food allergy patients to greatly benefit from these clear state-of-the-science clinical standards."

The new guidelines are available online here​.

The most common allergies among children are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans and wheat, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), while the most common among adults are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, fruits and vegetables.

Despite some potential treatments that show promise, there is still no cure for food allergy, with avoidance of the food the only way to prevent complications associated with the disease.

Chair of the coordinating committee Dr. Joshua Boyce said: "These guidelines are an important starting point toward a goal of a more cogent, evidence-based approach to the diagnosis and management of food allergy. We believe that they provide healthcare professionals with a clear-cut definition of what constitutes a food allergy and a logical framework for the appropriate use of diagnostic testing and accurate interpretation of the results."

The currently available guidelines are intended for use by family physicians and medical specialists, but NIAID said it expects to publish a synopsis in layperson’s language in early 2011.

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