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Experts warn that patients are put at risk through myths around allergies

Confusion and misinformation about allergies is leading to a ‘sea of overdiagnosis’ that is needlessly putting people at risk, a team of allergy experts has warned.

The experts – who have published a myth-busting guide on the topic – warn allergy has become a catch-all diagnosis for unexplained symptoms, with many people wrongly self-diagnosing and treating themselves for allergy on the basis of spurious information.

One study found 40% of people reported having a food allergy when only between 1% and 5% actually had one, the authors say, while another found 34% of parents reported their children had food allergies when only 5% of them genuinely did.

As a result people are taking medications and restricting their diets unnecessarily – in some cases even leading to malnutrition in children.

At the same time, they argue, the tendency to over-diagnose has meant genuine cases are being trivialised – with UK hospital admissions for anaphylaxis increasing 615% between 1992 and 2012.

The guide – Making sense of allergies – was produced with charity Sense About Science and outlines current evidence-based knowledge on the causes and treatments of allergies, as well as listing common myths about them – including bogus theories on lifestyle and alternative diets.

Co-author Dr Michael Perkin, consultant paediatric allergist from the UK Cochrane Centre, said: ‘The level of misinformation surrounding allergies is staggering. Most of my consultations include refuting firmly held beliefs that usually have no scientific foundation.

‘It is a great step in the right direction that Making Sense of Allergies has been produced. I very much hope it will help to empower families to understand better what allergies are all about.’

Readers' comments (5)

  • The bain of a consultation: 'I'd like an allergy test'...sure you do. Not helped by media, women's magazines, dieticians, homeopaths and nutritionists justifying their corner. Western ailments can be tiresome.

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  • Vinci Ho

    The biggest confusions came from (1) food allergy and food intolerance (2) atopy and anaphylaxis/angioedema.

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  • Link - Making sense of allergies - does not work

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  • This link works for me:

    http://www.senseaboutscience.org/pages/making-sense-of-allergies.html

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  • I think the biggest confusions come from the gap between what our patients understand "allergy" to mean and what doctors have been taught about allergy. The knowledge we have on the subject isn't common sense or intuitive and we can't be too hard on patients for not being familiar with the physiological and biochemical mechanisms of allergy and for working with knowledge gleaned from the non-medical press and from the nice girl at the counter in Holland and Barrett who seems to know her stuff, like, really really well.

    I may have slightly less patience with other highly trained health care workers who tell patients to "go and see your GP and get an allergy test" on all sorts of pretexts.

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