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.’