Letters to the Editor

Examinations Should Include Food Allergy Tests


Am Fam Physician. 2003 Sep 1;68(5):802-806.

to the editor: The article,1 “Environmental Control of Allergic Diseases,” in American Family Physician presents an excellent organized schema for environmental control of common inhalants that contribute to asthma and allergic disease. However, the authors do not mention ingestants that also can trigger reactivity of the respiratory tract. For example, foods induce respiratory symptoms by both reaginic and nonreaginic mechanisms; moreover, food allergies commonly coexist with inhalant allergies. One study2 showed that 43 percent of asthmatic patients who were placed on a diet that eliminated common allergens substantially improved compared with only 6 percent of subjects in the control group.

A proper diagnosis of specific food allergies often requires screening tests for evidence of food-specific IgE allergy and proof of reactivity through elimination diets and oral food challenges.3 Double-blind, placebo-controlled food elimination and rechallenge is considered the “gold standard” for diagnosis of food allergies4 in contrast to skin prick tests and radioallergosorbent tests, which are sensitive indicators of food-specific IgE antibodies but poor predictors of clinical reactivity.5 In many situations, the diagnosis of food allergy may rest simply on a history of an acute onset of typical symptoms, such as wheezing following the isolated ingestion of a suspected food.6


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1. German JA, Harper MB. Environmental control of allergic diseases. Am Fam Physician. 2002;66:421–6....

2. Hoj L, Osterballe O, Bundgaard A, Weeke B, Weiss M. A double-blind controlled trial of elemental diet in severe, perennial asthma. Allergy. 1981;36:257–62.

3. Sampson HA. Food allergy. Part 2: diagnosis and management. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999;103:981–9.

4. Eigenmann PA, Sampson HA. Interpreting skin prick tests in the evaluation of food allergy in children. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 1998;9:186–91.

5. Sampson HA, Ho DG. Relationship between food-specific IgE concentrations and the risk of positive food challenges in children and adolescents. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1997;100:444–51.

6. Sicherer SH. Food allergy: when and how to perform oral food challenges. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 1999;10:226–34.

in reply: Dr. Anderson correctly points out that we did not mention in our article1 that ingestants can trigger reactivity of the respiratory tract. However, the bulk of the literature on this subject indicates that the frequency of significant asthma exacerbation caused by food allergy is low,2,3 and the vast majority of reactions are caused by a small number of foods such as peanuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, and cow's milk.4 Persons tend to outgrow allergies to milk and eggs but not to nuts and fish; peanuts are the most common food allergen in children more than three years of age.4 National and international asthma guidelines recognize that food allergy is an uncommon cause of asthma exacerbation.3,5 Atopic dermatitis is much more likely than asthma to be caused by food allergy. One study6 showed that one third of children with refractory atopic dermatitis had clinical reactivity to food proteins.


show all references

1. German JA, Harper MB. Environmental control of allergic diseases. Am Fam Physician. 2002;66:421–6....

2. James JM, Bernhisel-Broadbent J, Sampson HA. Respiratory reactions provoked by double-blind food challenges in children. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1994;149:59–64.

3. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma: expert panel report 2. Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 1997;NIH Publication no. 97–4051.

4. Rance F, Kanny G, Dutau G, Moneret-Vautrin DA. Food hypersensitivity in children: clinical aspects and distribution of allergens. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 1999;10:33–8.

5. Global Initiative for Asthma. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Global strategy for asthma management and prevention. Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 1997; NIH Publication no. 02–3659.

6. Eigenmann PA, Sicherer SH, Borkowski TA, Cohen BA, Sampson HA. Prevalence of IgE-mediated food allergy among children with atopic dermatitis. Pediatrics. 1998;101:E8.

Send letters to afplet@aafp.org, or 11400 Tomahawk Creek Pkwy., Leawood, KS 66211-2680. Include your complete address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Letters should be fewer than 400 words and limited to six references, one table or figure, and three authors.

Letters submitted for publication in AFP must not be submitted to any other publication. Possible conflicts of interest must be disclosed at time of submission. Submission of a letter will be construed as granting the AAFP permission to publish the letter in any of its publications in any form. The editors may edit letters to meet style and space requirements.

This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



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