A recent report from allergy specialists suggests that members of the public are misdiagnosing themselves as having food allergies and intolerances.
It was found that while 40% claim to have an allergy, only 5% actually have one. Similarly, about a third of parents think their children are suffering from a food allergy, but only one in 20 would pass the clinical allergy diagnosis.
The worry here is that these misdiagnoses could start to trivialise real complaints. Interestingly, the number of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) has increased by 615% in the last 10 years.
It is theorised that this could be due to restaurants not taking the problem seriously in a culture of cynicism.
The report was produced by Sense About Science, The British Society for Immunology and charities like Asthma UK and Allergy UK. The organisations say the term ‘allergy’ has become a catch-all diagnosis for symptoms that cannot otherwise be explained.
The rise in reported allergies (rather than actual allergies) appears to be affecting affluent areas and has been dubbed a ‘middle-class phenomenon’. The organisations believe increased availability of high-street allergy test kits are to blame, as they have no basis in science.
“I commonly see children who’ve been put onto unnecessarily restricted diets because their parents assume, in good faith, that they have allergies to multiple foods on the basis of ‘allergy tests’ which have no scientific basis, “ said Dr Paul Seddon, Consultant Paediatric Allergist at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton.
Cutting out entire food groups based on self-diagnosis could put children at risk. In fact, the report suggests that this is leading to malnutrition in children – a worrying situation.
Charities say that thousands of people get in touch every year as they are confused about allergies and their symptoms. Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet agrees that allergies are often discussed on the site and points out that while some are clear on the difference between an allergy and an intolerance, others are unsure.
If you are unsure whether you or your child is suffering from a food allergy or intolerance, you are advised to seek professional help. Book an appointment with your GP for a formal diagnosis and visit a nutritionist for dietary advice.