Do At-Home Food Sensitivity Tests Really Work?

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If you routinely find yourself or your child dealing with stomach pain, diarrhea, gas, bloating or heartburn, you may suspect diet is to blame. And you might be right. An estimated 15% to 20% of people suffer from food intolerances that can lead to those sorts of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

People dealing with ongoing symptoms of food intolerance may consider taking a food sensitivity test. There are several companies that sell at-home versions that you can buy online and do yourself.

“If you suspect a particular food is triggering your symptoms, these at-home tests may give you guidance on what to eliminate,” says Erica K. Ridley, M.D., an allergist at Henry Ford Health. But she cautions that you may not always get the answers you seek—or a solution to your nagging symptoms.

What Do At-Home Food Intolerance Tests Measure?

“Most at-home tests measure antibodies called IgG,” explains Dr. Ridley. “The ones that measure IgG4 are looking at food intolerances or sensitivities.” In order to test for a true food allergy, the kit has to measure IgE antibodies.

Different tests use different methods. You may do a finger prick and put a drop of blood on a card you send in to be analyzed. Some tests use hair or saliva samples to test for antibodies.

After the company has analyzed your blood, hair or saliva sample, they’ll typically send you a list of foods you’re sensitive to and recommend eliminating them from your diet. Common types of food intolerances include lactose (found in milk and dairy products), gluten (the protein in wheat) and histamines (chemicals found in certain foods such as cheese, wine, chocolate, pineapple, banana and avocado).

What If I Think I Have A Food Allergy?

An at-home test that measures IgE should be able to pinpoint foods you’re allergic to. Food allergies cause allergic reactions (sometimes severe) including hives, swelling, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

“If you don’t have symptoms of a true food allergy, these tests can have a high false positive rate,” says Dr. Ridley. That might lead to avoiding foods you don’t really need to, restricting your diet unnecessarily.

What Are The Downsides Of Taking An At-Home Test?

The biggest problem with testing yourself—and revamping your diet based on the results—is that you might not really solve the problems you or your child are having. And you could create new ones.

“Most studies have shown that people who do an elimination diet based on IgG4 testing don’t see significant improvements in symptoms,” says Dr. Ridley. “And if you are advised to eliminate many foods, it can be difficult to stick to and could cause nutrient deficiencies.”

There are other downsides. At-home tests can cost several hundred dollars and are not typically covered by insurance. In addition, these tests should not be used if you have severe allergic symptoms. The tests can give false negative results, making you think it’s safe to eat something that might actually cause a severe reaction. Instead, consult with an allergist to get a complete history.

What Can An Allergist Do?

If you suspect you or your child has a food allergy, you should see an allergy doctor. Some food allergies (including nuts and seafood) can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction. A specialist can pinpoint the exact cause of a food allergy and advise you how to safely manage it.

Even those with food sensitivities can benefit from working with an allergist. In addition to testing, they’ll perform a physical exam and health history. They may ask you to keep a food diary or recommend a short-term elimination diet. Your allergist can also work closely with other specialists to help resolve any digestive issues you’re having. “By collaborating with GI doctors we can find underlying conditions like inflammatory bowel syndrome that an at-home test will miss,” says Dr. Ridley.

Take Part In Pediatric Food Allergy Research

Allergists and researchers at Henry Ford Health are creating a Food Allergy Registry to discover how food allergies affect diverse populations, which treatments are more effective, and why food allergy rates are increasing. Parents of Henry Ford Health patients under 18 years old with one or more food allergy are invited to take part. Learn more and join.


To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Erica Ridley is an allergist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers - Fairlane and Royal Oak.

Categories: FeelWell