When it comes to allergies, doctors are in the dark

If you have an allergy that is potentially life-threatening, you should educate yourself about how to deal with a severe reaction. Research shows there’s a good chance not even your doctor knows what to do.

For instance, if you are unfortunate enough to suffer an extreme allergic reaction to a food allergen, you need to be given a shot of epinephrine right away to ensure your survival. But in the a study that surveyed more than 400 doctors, researchers found that half of physicians specializing in internal medicine were ignorant of that fact.

“We asked what the best first treatment was for a patient experiencing vomiting and hives after eating a known food allergen,” says researcher Kara Wada, a pediatric allergist. “Only 50 percent of internal medicine physicians knew it was epinephrine. And 85 percent of internal medicine physicians thought the flu vaccine shouldn’t be given to egg-allergic patients. It’s now known that it’s safe for those with egg allergies to get the flu shot.”

The study demonstrated:

  • More than 75 percent of pediatricians can’t identify the most common causes of food allergies in children under 4 years of age. (The most common are eggs and milk.) Thirty-four percent thought the most prevalent cause is strawberries. Another 13 percent blamed artificial food colors.
  • Both pediatricians and internal medicine specialists believe it is necessary to inquire about allergies to iodine, shellfish and artificial dyes before having a patient undergo a CT scan or other imaging procedures which use iodinated contrast agents. Since shellfish contain iodine, many physicians believe there is a link between a reaction to contrast agents and a shellfish allergy. But this is a disproved myth.
  • Most pediatricians believe skin prick tests for food or inhaled allergens is inaccurate or unreliable until kids are 3 years old. But although skin prick testing is rarely performed on infants younger than 6 months old, there is no other age limit.

If you have significant allergy problems, you should be treated by a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner who understands the latest research about allergies.

“If you suspect you or your child has an allergy, it’s important to see a board-certified allergist,” says David Stukus, a pediatric allergist. “Allergists are first board-certified in pediatrics and/or internal medicine, and then have an additional two years of training in the specialty of allergy/immunology. It’s that training that makes them the best qualified to treat allergic conditions of all kinds.”

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.