Seeing A Physician About Possible Food Allergy: What To Expect

When you suspect a food allergy in yourself or your child, it is helpful to know what to expect when visiting a doctor for a diagnosis.

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Though differences exist in the way doctors approach diagnosis the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has provided professionals and consumers food allergy diagnostic guidelines.

Diagnosing Suspected Food Allergy

According to NIAID’s Guidelines* medical professionals should consider the possibility of food allergy when:

  • The patient is experiencing anaphylaxis.
  • The patient has, on more than one occasion, experienced a combination of symptoms minutes to hours after eating, and/or after eating a certain food.
  • The patient has been diagnosed with EoE (Eosinophilic Esophagitis).
  • The patient is a child diagnosed with moderate to severe EoE, eczema, enteropathy, enterocolitis, or allergic proctocolitis.

When food allergy is considered a possible diagnosis, the NIAID Guidelines recommend patients undergo a comprehensive medical history, a physical examination, and appropriate tests for diagnosing IgE-mediated food allergy.

A medical history may provide clues about the type of allergic reaction being caused by food, and might suggest which foods are involved. The examination can reveal any physical signs congruent with food allergy reactions.

Specific Food Allergy Diagnostic Questions

The healthcare professional should also ask food-specific questions similar to the following:

  • What are the symptoms?
  • Which food causes the symptoms, and has this food caused symptoms more than once?
  • When symptoms occurred, how much of this food had been eaten?
  • Was the food eaten raw, prepared on the stove top, or baked in an oven?
  • How long after exposure to the food did symptoms occur?
  • Has the food ever been eaten without symptoms occurring?
  • Along with exposure to the food were other factors involved such as aspirin, exercise, alcohol, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs?
  • Have these symptoms ever occurred other than after exposure to the food?
  • What treatment has been given, and how long did the symptoms continue?

Unreliability of Self-Diagnosis

Though knowledge is helpful, we should never assume that being an informed healthcare consumer makes us qualified to diagnose a food allergy.

As many as one out of three people believe they, or their child, has a food allergy. Yet, only one in 28 individuals, when confirmed by a medical professional, actually has a food allergy. Self-diagnosis is unreliable and can cause unnecessary personal and family distress.

Source: NIAID
Photo credit: Naval Surface Warriors

*The Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Report of the NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel provides healthcare professionals with up-to-date clinical advice on caring for patients with food allergy. It is not a regulatory document.

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