Many claims made by individuals about intolerance could distract attention and undermine understanding about the dangers of life-threatening anaphylaxis shock for those who consume products containing specified allergens, said Lynne Regent, chief executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign.
“The problem is when you have so many people who think they are allergic, then you can actually downplay the importance of people who are severely allergic and certain people can think it isn’t as important as it is,” said Regent.
Regent estimated that at least 25% of the population considered themselves allergic or intolerant to something, when the true numbers that are severely allergic is estimated to be between 6–8% of children and between 1–3% of adults.
“But an awful lot of people are actually affecting their diet quite significantly because they think they are allergic,” Regent added. “Of course people can be severely intolerant and that is not very nice at all, but trace amounts [of allergens] if you are intolerant will not trigger anaphylaxis and therefore a life-threatening condition.”
Regent called into question the proliferation of dubious high street and self-diagnosis allergen testing and called for better availability of accurate clinical diagnoses for allergenicity in the UK from healthcare professionals.
“One of the problems is that it is quite difficult sometimes to get an accurate diagnosis because our allergy services in this country are not marvellous,” she said. “As a result of that, people buy tests off the net or they go along to some high street retailers and they get hold of tests that can be grossly inaccurate.”
To compound the problem, in a number of cases children had been identified by clinicians with nutrient deficiencies resulting from their parents removing major food groups from their diets because of misplaced fears of intolerance, reported Regent.
“There is potential harm in this area; there is no doubt about that,” she claimed. “Our view is very much that if you feel that you have a severe allergy you should go along to your GP. Self-diagnosis and diagnosis by off-the-peg tests is definitely not the way to do it.”
The Anaphylaxis Campaign, a UK registered charity which receives no government funding, has around 5,000 individual members, 660 clinicians associated with it and about 140-plus corporate members. It works closely with the food industry to increase awareness about allergies, which can result in life-threatening anaphylaxis and develop measures to reduce its incidence. It welcomes food company involvement as members (www.anaphylaxis.org.uk)
Last Friday (May 15) the Anaphylaxis Campaign organised a sponsored ‘orange wig day’ to raise awareness about allergy sufferers and raise crucial funds for the organisation.