January 3, 2011

Official food allergy treatment guidelines for physicians released

A collaborative, government-led effort to guide and standardize diagnosis, treatment and management of food allergies has resulted in the release of an official set of recommendations for physicians.

The guidelines were published online by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at www.jacionline.org and also are available at www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodallergy/
clinical/Pages/default.aspx. They were developed by the National Institutes of Health and leading researchers and clinicians, professional and patient advocacy organizations, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, among others.

Food allergies are among the most common medical conditions, believed to affect three out of 100 Americans, and the number of affected people has been rising steadily in the last 20 years for reasons not well understood, scientists say.

“Paradoxical as it may be, up until now we have lacked uniform guidelines based on hard scientific evidence about how to diagnose and treat these very common conditions that affect the lives of millions of people,” said Robert Wood, one of the six lead authors of the guidelines and director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

The guidelines are designed for use by specialists, primary-care physicians and other health care staff. They consolidate the latest available data into straightforward and consistent protocols for diagnosis and treatment.

“Because the guidelines will give physicians a uniform and consistent pool of information on the latest and most effective diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, patients are more likely to get the most-up-to-date care regardless of where they seek care,” Wood said.

Some topics covered in the guidelines are:

• Clear-cut definitions of food allergy and food intolerance, two commonly confused but completely different conditions.

• What tests should be used for the proper diagnosis of a food allergy, including a discussion on skin-prick and blood testing versus gold-standard oral food challenges.

• Management of life-threatening and non-life-threatening allergic reactions.

• Advice on management of life-threatening reactions (anaphylaxis) for patients and physicians, including an anaphylaxis emergency action plan.

• Development and natural course of food allergies, by type of allergy and age.