Q. My son was diagnosed with peanut allergy by a screening blood test when he was 18 months old (done due to a family history of food allergy in first cousins), but he never had a major reaction to peanut before the diagnosis, and nothing has happened since. He is now 5 years old. He has had cookies that were made in a facility where peanuts are present, without any reaction. He recently had a negative skin test for peanut, and his last blood test level was 2.3. I was told that my son should continue to avoid peanuts. However, I recently read about a new kind of blood test for peanut allergy, and I am wondering if this test could be helpful for my son?
A. Peanut allergy seems to be on the rise in the US over the past decade. While there are some promising treatments being researched, the current standard of care is complete avoidance of peanut. Because this restriction can have such a major impact on everyone involved, it is very important that you receive an accurate diagnosis. Peanut allergy affects most areas of a person's life, from the home setting, to play dates, to school, to dining out and beyond.
The most important factor in making an accurate diagnosis of peanut allergy is the actual history reactions that have occurred upon consuming a peanut. One problem that allergists face, however, is that some people do not have a clear-cut history of reaction to peanut. In these cases, allergists will typically perform a skin prick test to gain more information. If the skin test is negative, an IgE blood test is the next step. If the blood test also comes back negative (meaning complete absence of peanut-specific IgE, or a very low positive result with no history of anaphylaxis or other serious reaction), an allergist will often proceed to an oral food challenge in the office to confirm the test results.
However, if the first blood test comes back positive, yet the clinical history is vague or indicates a mild reaction history, a new test, called the peanut "component test," may be used to help provide clearer information. This component test can determine which specific peanut proteins are triggering the positive test results. It is important to note that there are many smaller protein fragments that make up a whole peanut. Thus, when a person reacts to peanut, he or she may be responding to one or more different protein fragments in the peanut. Determining which of these protein pieces are causing the reaction is important, as some (scientific names Ara h 1 , Ara h 2 , and Ara h 3 ) carry more risk than others. Thus, if these specific tests are negative, there is less risk; if they are positive, there is a higher risk.
These results can help guide your allergist in determing whether to perform an oral food challenge despite the positive initial peanut blood test. Given your son's unclear history of reaction to peanut, you should discuss the the peanut component test, and a possible oral food challenge depending on the results, with your allergist. No matter the results, these tests should provide you with useful information.