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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 01:40 GMT
Food allergy risk over-estimated
Dairy shelf
True food allergies are relatively rare
Millions of people mistakenly believe they are allergic to some types of food.

Researchers have found that one in three people believe they have a true food allergy - but less than 2% actually do.


More people are self-diagnosing that they, or indeed their children have a food allergy, and are eliminating certain food types from their diet

Silvia Anton
The findings, from market analyst Datamonitor, suggest that many people are avoiding certain types of food unnecessarily, possibly depriving themselves of valuable nutrients in the process.

The researchers say that part of the problem is people are diagnosing themselves without ever seeing their doctor.

Even when medical advise is sought, the current tests are subjective and not particularly accurate.

A lack of certified allergists and the closure of allergy clinics is compounding the problem.

They also warn that people who are accurately diagnosed face the twin problems of inadequate food labelling and a lack of effective drugs to treat the condition.

Allergy and intolerance

The researchers say many people think they are suffering from a food allergy, when what they actually have is a food intolerance.

A true food allergy is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by the immune system.

In its most extreme form this leads to potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock which requires emergency treatment with the hormone adrenaline.

A food intolerance does not trigger a life-threatening immunological response, but can produce symptoms such as asthma, eczema or migraines.

The most common triggers for true food allergies are peanuts, milk and seafood.

Datamonitor estimates that up to 30% of allergic reactions occur after a patient has eaten food that has not been properly labelled.

It says food labelling laws must be enforced more strongly.

Allergies can be triggered by as little as 1/1,000th of a peanut.

Children

The allergy rate among children is slightly higher than it is among adults.

However, a far greater percentage of children are misdiagnosed as having a food allergy.

In addition, research shows that most children will outgrow their allergies.

Silvia Anton, Healthcare Analyst at Datamonitor said: "As society continues to become more health conscious, more and more people are self-diagnosing that they, or indeed their children have a food allergy, and are eliminating certain food types from their diet.

"Future research much focus on developing more accurate diagnostic tests so that those with a 'true' food allergy can be effectively identified, and in educating doctors in spotting the symptoms of food allergies".

Muriel Simmons, chief executive of the British Allergy Foundation, agreed with the analysis that food intolerance was confused with food allergy.

But she told BBC News Online that it was not necessarily a bad thing if people stopped eating food that did not agree with them - even if it was simply an intolerance, rather than an allergy.

She said: "Nobody is going to cut something out of their diet without a reason, and if the body does not like something it is better to avoid it."

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"There is no one standard test for allergies"
See also:

05 Nov 01 | Health
'False epidemic' of food allergy
14 Aug 00 | Health
Doctors warn of allergy risks
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