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Relationship between food-specific IgE concentrations and the risk of positive food challenges in children and adolescents.

BACKGROUND: The double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge (DBPCFC) is the "gold standard" for diagnosis of food hypersensitivity. Skin prick tests and RASTs are sensitive indicators of food-specific IgE antibodies but poor predictors of clinical reactivity. Previous studies suggested that high concentrations of food-specific IgE antibody were predictive of food-induced clinical symptoms. Because the CAP System FEIA (Pharmacia Diagnostics, Uppsala, Sweden) provides a quantitative assessment of allergen-specific IgE antibody, this study was undertaken to determine the potential utility of the CAP System FEIA in diagnosis of IgE-mediated food hypersensitivity.

METHODS: Sera from 196 patients with food allergy were analyzed for specific IgE antibodies to egg, milk, peanut, soy, wheat, and fish by CAP System FEIA. Sera were randomly selected from 300 stored samples of children and adolescents who had been evaluated by history, skin prick tests, and DBPCFCs. The study population was highly atopic; all patients had atopic dermatitis, and approximately 50% had asthma and allergic rhinitis at the time of initial evaluation. The performance characteristics of the CAP System FEIA were compared with those of skin prick tests and the outcome of DBPCFCs or "convincing" histories of anaphylactic reactions.

RESULTS: The prevalence of specific food allergies in the study population varied from 22% for wheat to 73% for egg. Allergy to egg, milk, peanut, and soy accounted for 87% of confirmed reactions. The performance characteristics of skin prick tests and CAP System FEIA (egg, milk, peanut, fish) were comparable, with excellent sensitivity and negative predictive accuracy but poor specificity and positive predictive accuracy. The performance characteristics of the CAP System FEIA for soy and wheat were poor. For egg, milk, peanut, and fish allergy, diagnostic levels of IgE, which could predict clinical reactivity in this population with greater than 95% certainty, were identified: egg, 6 kilounits of allergen-specific IgE per liter (kU[A]/L); milk, 32 kU(A)/L; peanut, 15 kU(A)/L; and fish, 20 kU(A)/L.

CONCLUSIONS: When compared with the outcome of DBPCFCs, results of CAP System FEIA are generally comparable to those of skin prick tests in predicting symptomatic food hypersensitivity. Furthermore, by measuring the concentrations of food-specific IgE antibodies with the CAP System FEIA, it is possible to identify a subset of patients who are highly likely (>95%) to experience clinical reactions to egg, milk, peanut, or fish. This could eliminate the need to perform DBPCFCs in a significant number of patients suspected of having IgE-mediated food allergy.

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