Australia has the highest rate of food allergies in the world and yet the tests used to diagnose them are unreliable, with experts arguing this is putting lives at risk.
Due to price and practicalities, skin prick tests are the most used allergy tests in Australia. However, the allergen extracts used in skin prick tests are not standardised and can vary in potency, meaning they can return false-negative or false-positive results.
The dangers inherent in such inaccurate results could see people consuming foods they are allergic to, or avoiding foods they don’t need to avoid and experiencing anxiety, impacting their quality of life.
Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Association recently withdrew a pecan allergen extract used for skin prick testing. The product, made by a Danish pharmaceutical company, returned negative results in people who went on to experience serious allergic reactions to pecan.
According to the National Allergy Council, life-threatening food allergies in Australia doubled between 2007 and 2017 and hospital admissions from such allergies have increased by 350 per cent over the past two decades. This upsurge has seen more people than ever need to see allergists and immunologists, and the waiting lists for testing can be anywhere from six months to five years.
Research experts are now calling for improved allergy diagnosis in Australia through standardisation of allergen extracts. They say manufacturers should be required to list how much protein per millilitres their product contains, and what minor and major allergens are represented. This would make skin prick tests more accurate and reliable.
At the same time, they say there is an urgent need for new allergy testing methods that are more accurate and reliable than skin prick tests.