Have you ever had an allergic reaction? Did you take a test to confirm whether you actually have an allergy? Here’s Victoria from Sense About Science on why you need to think twice before buying online allergy tests.
When I found myself covered in hives last week, I was pretty sure it was an allergic reaction. But to what? Should I be avoiding a certain type of food, face moisturiser, or trying to keep indoors on high-pollen days?
My concerned housemate kindly sent me links to lots of allergy tests she’d found online. It seems I could simply pay for a test to find out what I was allergic to. But they were pricey – many were upwards of £100! So do these tests really work? Fortunately, a recent part of my work at Sense About Science made me particularly sceptical and eager to hang onto my cash.
Making sense of allergies
With the help of leading experts, we have just launched a new guide, Making Sense of Allergies. These experts warned us that many of the available tests are based on dubious scientific evidence, and there is no one allergy test that can alone diagnose an allergy.
From their insights, it seems there is still a lot that specialists don’t know about the causes of allergies, but it is important that what they do know is not drowned out by misinformation. It is around these uncertainties that misleading information about causes, conflicting advice, and an opportunistic market in dodgy tests and treatments has developed.
With allergies on the rise it’s no surprise then that many of us are confused by allergies, unsure if we have one, or what to do about it. Doctors see many people on unnecessarily restricted diets or taking potentially harmful treatments, having followed the advice of invalid tests. Tariq El-Shanawany, Consultant Clinical Immunologist, said:
‘It might feel reassuring to get a quick result from a test you have found online, but if it’s misleading it’s a waste of time.’
Getting your allergies tested
Even the best allergy tests cannot be 100% certain, the experts say. We’d advise that allergy testing needs to be done under the care of a medical professional in conjunction with a face-to-face consultation, because results from the tests must be considered in the context of the patient’s medical history.
Experts are concerned that ineffective tests and other kinds of self-diagnosis are creating a large proportion of people who think they have an allergy when they don’t, and dangerous allergies are trivialised.
Fortunately, my allergic reaction wasn’t life threatening. But my sister-in-law’s carrot allergy is (she can barely go near one without needing an Epi-pen). I’m now going to visit my GP, rather than shelling out for a dubious test.
What’s your experience with allergies? Have you ever seen any allergy tests? Did you buy one instead of visiting your GP?
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Victoria Murphy, Programme Manager at Sense About Science. All opinions expressed here are Victoria’s own, not necessarily those of Which?