New, More Accurate Peanut Allergy Test May Eliminate Risky Food Challenges
Nearly everyone knows someone who suffers from a food allergy. Restaurants label their dishes as gluten-free, boxed brownie mixes tout their dairy-free ingredients, and every packaged food that is processed anywhere near a nut is labeled as such, but that doesn't always mean living with a food allergy is easy (or that products are always safe). And the number of those suffering has been growing.
Approximately 15 million Americans have food allergies, affecting nearly one in 13 children, according to Food Allergy Research and Education, a nonprofit organization working on behalf of Americans with food allergies. But testing for these allergies just got a whole lot easier, cheaper, and more accurate.
A team of scientists from King’s College London published a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology describing a new blood test that accurately, and safely, diagnoses peanut allergies. The study, which analyzed nearly 175 children participants, found the blood test to be 98 percent accurate, according to Reuters.
Currently, food allergies are diagnosed from a skin-prick or related blood test that looks for antibodies in the sample. These tests are unable to differentiate between a true allergy and a food sensitivity, and often end in false positives for food allergies, according to Reuters.
If a doctor decides to further investigate a food allergy—or if they've determined if a someone has outgrown an allergy—they can request an oral food challenge. This is when a patient gradually consumes larger quantities of a food allergen in a controlled hospital setting, as Food Allergy Research and Education materials describe. This is currently the most accurate method to diagnose food allergies, though many find it stressful, expensive, and high-risk.
This new blood test instead looks for mast cells in the sample, which are essential in triggering allergic symptoms. The test itself is five times cheaper than completing an oral food challenge, according to Reuters.
Lead researcher Alexandra Santos believes the test will save money and reduce almost two-thirds of the need for oral food challenges. There are currently plans to release this test to the public, and there is potential to expand the test’s abilities to look for other common allergies such as milk, eggs, sesame, and trees nuts, Reuters reports.