Many allergists and immunologists have expressed skepticism concerning at home allergy tests.
Medical advances combined with entrepreneurial zeal have resulted in a batch of DIY home testing kits. The main type of test garnering attention is for food sensitivity.
National Public Radio in May explained that these tests allow consumers to skip often-expensive doctor visits to learn, in the privacy of their homes, if they are allergic to certain foods. According to NPR, “The test is supposed to measure whether a person’s immune system reacts to certain foods by making an antibody called immunoglobulin G (IgG) …”
The problem is that not only does the Food and Drug Administration not regulate most tests currently marketed, but the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology also does not recognize the validity of IgG tests in diagnosing food sensitivity.
Plus, many allergists and immunologists have expressed skepticism. Lily Pien, MD, is one; she is on staff in the Allergy and Clinical Immunology department at Cleveland Clinic. She believes there are three clear reasons why these new home tests — many from startup companies — may not work:
1. Accuracy can be compromised if the test measures immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies instead of IgE antibodies to foods, which essentially means that a true food allergy cannot be determined.
2. The consumer may be led to believe he or she has a food allergy when, in fact, the condition is food intolerance. Differences are significant: Food allergies engage the immune system and can cause an immediate and possibly life-threatening reaction; a food intolerance affects the digestive system and can lead to cramping or diarrhea. An example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance. Treatments are different, so it is important to know which type it is — and home testing kits may not be clear.
3. “Medical tests are best interpreted by consulting a health care provider,” Pien says. A true food allergy needs to be treated by a physician.
“Before purchasing the home allergy test, individuals should know if the test is for specific IgE antibody levels. If someone is concerned about being allergic, they should have testing for specific IgE antibody,” she says.