Food allergies: detection and management

Am Fam Physician. 2008 Jun 15;77(12):1678-86.


Family physicians play a central role in the suspicion and diagnosis of immunoglobulin E-mediated food allergies, but they are also critical in redirecting the evaluation for symptoms that patients are falsely attributing to allergies. Although any food is a potential allergen, more than 90 percent of acute systemic reactions to food in children are from eggs, milk, soy, wheat, or peanuts, and in adults are from crustaceans, tree nuts, peanuts, or fish. The oral allergy syndrome is more common than anaphylactic reactions to food, but symptoms are transient and limited to the mouth and throat. Skin-prick and radioallergosorbent tests for particular foods have about an 85 percent sensitivity and 30 to 60 percent specificity. Intradermal testing has a higher false-positive rate and greater risk of adverse reactions; therefore, it should not be used for initial evaluations. The double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge remains the most specific test for confirming diagnosis. Treatment is through recognition and avoidance of the responsible food. Patients with anaphylactic reactions need emergent epinephrine and instruction in self-administration in the event of inadvertent exposure. Antihistamines can be used for more minor reactions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anaphylaxis / drug therapy
  • Anaphylaxis / etiology*
  • Anaphylaxis / immunology
  • Arachis / adverse effects
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Eggs / adverse effects
  • Epinephrine / therapeutic use*
  • Family Practice
  • Food Hypersensitivity* / diagnosis
  • Food Hypersensitivity* / physiopathology
  • Food Hypersensitivity* / prevention & control
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Radioallergosorbent Test
  • Shellfish / adverse effects
  • Skin Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Histamine H1 Antagonists
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents
  • Epinephrine