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The utility of patch tests using larger screening series of allergens.

BACKGROUND: The number of patch test allergens available within the United States for routine commercial purchase is limited. Allergens chosen for inclusion in routine screening series or patch test trays vary, and the degree of information obtained from any series may or may not serve a patient's needs.

OBJECTIVE: Knowledge of how well the allergens chosen for inclusion in the two commercially available sources perform compared with a more expansive panel of tests can help physicians select the more appropriate tests.

METHODS: From 1994 to mid-1997, 554 patients were tested with allergens recommended by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG). This included all allergens currently available from both current domestic sources, although not in the identical form used by the Thin-layer Rapid Use Epicutaneous Test (TRUE) test (Glaxo Dermatology, Research Triangle Park, NC). Another 185 patients were tested with supplemental series of allergens.

RESULTS: The larger the series of allergens used, the more positive tests were found and the more relevant tests as well. Hermal patch test allergens identified about 55% of the information found by the NACDG series; the TRUE test allergens (but not in the TRUE test system) identified 65%. Of the 103 reactions to supplemental allergens not found by the NACDG series, 59 were relevant.

CONCLUSION: Larger series of allergens can enhance accurate diagnosis of allergic contact dermatitis. No single arbitrary series of allergens can adequately survey the contemporary environment of individual patients. Selection of allergens for testing requires consideration of the patient's history and access to appropriate environmental contactants.

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