Suspect that your little one may have a peanut allergy? Well, according to research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, diagnosing it may become a whole lot easier thanks to mast activation test (MAT), a new blood test that's 98 percent effective and much safer than the current options.
So what exactly are the benefits of this new test? For starters, it eliminates the possibility of false positives and can't cause allergic reactions — such as the extremely rare but severe anaphylactic shock — in patients like skin-prick tests do.
Scientists also believe that the new blood test will be significantly more cost-efficient compared to your typical allergist-conducted oral food challenge, in which kids physically ingest a host of potential allergens in small doses. This food challenge is usually the fallback plan for children if the skin-prick test comes back as inconclusive.
Dr. Alexandra Santos, MRC Clinician Scientist at King's College London, pediatric allergist, and lead study author, believes that the new test will give medical professionals a more accurate read on whether or not kids actually have peanut allergies. "The current tests are not ideal. If we relied on them alone, we'd be over-diagnosing food allergies — only 22 percent of school-aged children in the UK with a positive test to peanuts are actually allergic when they're fed the food in a monitored setting."
And the MAT could also make the process of actually testing for allergies a heck of a lot less taxing on the patient as far as their symptoms are concerned.
"The new test is specific in confirming the diagnosis so when it's positive, we can be very sure it means allergy," she said, adding, "We would reduce by two-thirds the number of expensive, stressful, oral food challenges conducted, as well as saving children from experiencing allergic reactions."
In a skin-prick test, for example, allergy symptoms are triggered when they come in contact with an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), the substance that's responsible for the physical symptoms of allergic reactions.
Researchers hope they can use this test to screen for additional allergies that are common in childhood down the road. "We are adapting this test to other foods, such as milk, eggs, sesame, and tree nuts," said Dr. Santos. "This test will be useful as we are seeing more and more children who have never been exposed to these foods because they have severe eczema or have siblings with allergies. Parents are often afraid to feed them a food that is known to cause allergic reactions."