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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 12/ 6/2010

Food-allergy guidelines released

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

New guidelines released this morning are aimed at getting everyone on the same page when it comes to diagnosing and treating food allergies.

An expert panel working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) compiled the comprehensive guide published today in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The goal was to provide health-care professionals, whether they be allergy specialists, ER personnel or general practitioners, up-to-date, science-based information about managing food allergies. Such allergies affect millions of Americans, though disparities in the way they're diagnosed and reported make it hard to know just how many.

The guidelines do not address the management of food allergies outside the medical setting; they contain no advice for, say, schools, restaurants or parents.

One of the chief challenges in diagnosing food allergies, according to Hugh Sampson, past president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) and one of the report's authors, is sorting out information provided by sensitization tests (skin and blood tests that reveal whether the body has developed antibodies against certain allergens) and clinical reactions. In many instances, pinning down an allergy requires not just a skin or blood test or the report of a reaction but also a detailed patient history and an oral food challenge. Getting it right is essential; while some allergic reactions to food can be mild, others are dramatic and can be quickly fatal.

(Monika Melnychuk for The Washington Post)

Careful diagnosis should not only help identify allergies to certain foods but also rule out allergies to others. It's apparently common for patients to be advised to avoid foods for fear of allergic reaction when in fact they're not really allergic to those foods after all.

I've written about research in which people with food allergies are gradually exposed (under careful medical observation) to ever-increasing amounts of the offending allergen until they're eventually able to tolerate exposure in the real world. Though promising, that practice is still not ready for prime time, according to the guidelines, which do not recommend such immunotherapy for treating food allergies. That's because it hasn't yet been tested widely enough, and many questions and concerns about its efficacy and safety remain unanswered.

I read the guidelines with special interest, as my 17-year-old daughter has recently developed a food allergy or sensitivity that we've not yet been able to pinpoint. You can read more about it in this week's Eat, Drink and Be Healthy column. As a newcomer to the world of food allergies, I have to say I'm glad to see these new guidelines, which promise to add bring needed consistency to a field in which the stakes can be very high.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | December 6, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health, Health News, Kids' health, Parenting, allergies  
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