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Doctors caution about limitations of allergy tests

Parents of children with suspected allergies should be regularly monitored before testing is completed.

Although certain allergy tests can help confirm suspected allergies in children who are experiencing symptoms and monitor the development of a known allergy in a patient, they do not adequately identify allergies blindly, according to two allergists who are publishing an upcoming report on the issue.

Allergists Scott Sicherer of Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and Robert Wood of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center wrote an article that will be published in the January issue of Pediatrics Magazine. The piece urges physicians to avoid using solely skin-prick and blood testing to diagnose patients with allergies.

"Allergy tests can help a clinician in making a diagnosis but tests by themselves are not diagnostic magic bullets or foolproof predictors of clinical disease," Wood said in a press release. "Many children with positive tests results do not have allergic symptoms and some children with negative test results have allergies."

Instead, these tests can be used to confirm suspected allergy triggers. For example, if a child experienced anaphylaxis after being stung by a bee, one of these tests could be performed to confirm the presence of an allergy to the insect's venom.

According to Wood and Sicherer, a misdiagnosis of an allergy, perhaps resulting from a skin-prick or blood test, can be just as harmful as an undiagnosed allergy. Patients may be forced to take unnecessary medication or avoid suspected triggers that actually do not cause any negative reactions.

If a parent suspects his or her children may have an allergy, he or she should carefully monitor them to determine what conditions lead to negative symptoms. By tracking symptoms and passing this information on to their doctors, parents can help ensure that their children are diagnosed properly. Children can be administered over-the-counter antihistamines to control their symptoms until parents have an opportunity to meet with a doctor.

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