Oral food challenges are currently the most definitive way to diagnose a food allergy. Yet they are often the source of anxiety for patients and can be resisted for fear of discomfort or even death. A new study may allay some of those fears, showing that proper OFCs done with an allergist’s supervision, are extremely safe.

Published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (the publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology), the study examined results from over 6,300 oral food challenges. Most of those challenges were for children under the age of 14.

Researchers found that only two percent of those being tested had a severe reaction.

In fact, the study also found that oral food challenges are more likely to disprove an allergy than they are to have any kind of reaction at all, let alone a serious one. Only about 14 percent of those being tested for allergies via an OFC had reactions, with the vast majority of those being diagnosed as clear for the allergen.

Most reactions inside that 14 percent were non-anaphylaxis reactions, such as hives, and most were mild to moderate rather than severe. Most were treated with simple antihistamines taken orally.

“Oral food challenges are a very important tool for anyone who wants to know if they have a food allergy,” said allergist Kwei Akuete, MD, MPH, ACAAI member and lead author of the study. “As OFCs are the ‘gold standard’ for determining if someone is allergic to a food, it is important they are both effective and safe. Our study showed OFCs are safer than prior studies estimated, and that OFCs should be routinely used to help determine if a food allergy exists.”

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