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Controversial and Unproven Tests in the Diagnosis of Allergies

Alternative Medicine in the Testing for Allergies

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Updated April 28, 2007

Updated April 28, 2007
Non-traditional physicians have used numerous methods over the years as an attempt to diagnose (and in some cases, treat) allergies. These tests may claim to identify toxins in the body, or foods that are causing someone to be sick or tired. Most of these tests are not founded in science, and a clue is that insurance companies do not cover the tests, and/or not performed in typical medical laboratories (they may only be performed in specialized laboratories).

Before spending large sums of money on useless tests, read this article, and talk with your doctor (or a board-certified allergist), before embarking on a series of tests that will only give you useless information, while making someone else rich. Find out which allergy testing methods are valid for the evaluation of allergic disease.

Unproven tests for allergies can be divided into 3 categories:

  • Tests which are invalid for any purpose, and not based on scientific fact
  • Tests which are valid for other medical conditions, but not for the evaluation of allergies
  • Tests which may be valid for the evaluation of allergies, but too expensive or poorly understood for routine use

Invalid Tests

Cytotoxic Testing. This test sounds scientific, and in fact uses a term (cytotoxic) which is used in the field of immunology. The test involves placing a drop of the person's blood onto a glass microscope slide which has a specific dried food already attached to the glass. A technician then looks under a microscope at the blood cells, and claims to be able to tell if a person is allergic to the specific food used on the glass slide. There is no scientific basis for this test.

Provocation-Neutralization. This procedure may sound similar to the idea of allergy shots, yet has no scientific evidence that shows it works. It involves injecting (or eating) various chemicals, pollens, animal dander, foods, hormones or toxins into the skin of a person. If the injection results in any symptom (usually subjective symptoms), this is called the provocation dose. Then smaller doses and concentrations of that same substance are injected (or eaten), until no symptoms occur - this is called the neutralization dose. Provocation-neutralization may claim to cure allergies or reactions to just about anything.

Electrodermal Diagnosis. This test claims to diagnose food or other allergies through changes in skin resistance by measuring an electric current. The person will hold a glass vial containing the food (or other substance) in question in one hand, and a source of electrical current in the other hand. A galvanometer may be inserted into the glass vial or at another location on the person's body, and a reading taken. Increased resistance to the electrical current supposedly diagnoses allergy to that substance in that person.

Applied Kinesiology. A change in a person's muscle strength is detected by a technician when a person is exposed to a particular substance (such as holding a glass vial which contains a certain food), which claims to diagnose allergy in that individual.

Reaginic Pulse. This test, used for evaluation of food allergy, measures a person's pulse (rate of heart beat) after eating a particular food. If there is a change in the pulse, either up or down, then the claim is made that the person is allergic to that food. There is no evidence to support such a test.

Body Chemical Analysis.With advanced technology, trace amounts of certain chemicals can be measured in body fluids, hair, and tissue. These tests claim that the build-up of certain toxins in the body leads to allergy symptoms and disease. There is no scientific evidence that any of these measured chemicals or trace elements result in allergic or immunologic disease.

Valid Tests that are Invalid for Allergic Disease

Measurement of IgG Antibodies. Immunologlobulin G (IgG), is an antibody made by a person’s immune system, usually for purposes of fighting infections. These antibodies may need to be measured in the evaluation of a person's immune system. However, some practitioners (and many non-allergy physicians) will order these laboratory tests in the evaluation of allergies. The presence of IgG to various foods and environmental allergens (pollens, pet dander, dust mite), is not typically useful in the evaluation of allergic diseases. Measurement of other immune components, except for the measurement of immunoglobulin E (IgE) using a RAST, is not usually a valid test in the evaluation of allergies.

Valid Allergy Tests, Although Not for Routine Use

Histamine Release Assays. These tests measure the release of histamine from basophils, a white blood cell which plays a role in causing allergy symptoms. It is too complex of a test for the routine diagnosis of allergies.

Serial End-Point Skin Test Titration. This is a form of skin testing uses increased concentrations of allergy extracts in order to better determine a person's sensitivity to certain allergens. It may be a useful test in knowing what concentration to start a person's allergy shots, particularly if there has been a chance in the composition of the allergy shot mixture, although is not necessary for the routine diagnosis of allergies.

Source: Practice Parameters for Allergy Diagnostic Testing. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1995; 75(6): 543-625.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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