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Many people claim to be allergic to various things (e.g. https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/122809). Since I've been to an allergist, I naturally wonder how reliable those claims are. As far as I can tell from the literature, they are self-reported. Were they properly diagnosed by a professional?

Does anyone know how many adults and/or children have actually had the gold standard for allergy testing, which, as far as I know, is the skin test for some allergies? (I don't know what it is for food allergies.)

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  • Reported in what context?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 20:30
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    Notice that they asked people if they had been diagnosed with an allergy, not just if they thought they had one. That would presumably improve the reliability of the data somewhat, but it would still be less reliable than testing. People's doctors will say casual things like "You probably have a pollen allergy" without doing an actual test, and patients will tend to take that as a diagnosis.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 22:08
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    ok, I think "food allergies" are the suspect ones. Also, to Bryan's point: the number of medical personnel qualified to give the test could simply be asked for patient totals, without any personally identifying info, couldn't they? Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 23:22

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I'd say the data in the linked paper is reliable - it is even in the title (bolded for emphasis):

Diagnosed Allergic Conditions in Adults: United States, 2021

In addition, the methods has this to say (again, emphasis mine):

Definitions

Diagnosed allergic conditions: Adults were considered to have any allergic condition if they were diagnosed with one or more of three selected conditions: seasonal allergy, eczema, or food allergy.

● Eczema: Based on an affirmative response to both survey questions: “Does [Sample Adult] get an itchy rash due to eczema or atopic dermatitis?” and “Have you ever been told by a doctor or other health professional that [Sample Adult] had eczema or atopic dermatitis?”

● Food allergy: Based on an affirmative response to both survey questions: “Does [Sample Adult] have an allergy to one or more foods?” and “Have you ever been told by a doctor or other health professional that [Sample Adult] had an allergy to one or more foods?”

● Seasonal allergy: Based on an affirmative response to both survey questions: “Does [Sample Adult] get symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, or itchy or watery eyes due to hay fever, seasonal, or year-round allergies?” and “Have you ever been told by a doctor or other health professional that [Sample Adult] had hay fever, seasonal, or year-round allergies?”

So - self reporting from a survey, but needed a positive answer to both questions - "Do you have X symptoms?" and "Have you been told by a health professional that you have Y condition?" before it was considered to be a true case of allergy. This means they purposely excluded self-reported allergies, and that the statistics are likely more accurate than you might otherwise get.

However, this does exclude a lot of people with very common allergies such as allergic rhinitis, where a lot of people will have the symptoms and treat empirically (OTC anti-histamines etc.), but without ever going to see a health professional to get a diagnosis because they likely have the condition and it is easy to treat with widely available drugs. In these cases, would a visit to a health professional for diagnosis benefit the patient? It might eliminate more uncommon problems, but the first diagnostic from the doctor is likely to be [common] allergy - treat empirically and if conditions don't improve, then it warrants further investigation for other conditions; exactly what the patient has been doing themselves.

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  • I missed the part about "both survey questions" thanks. As for testing: I think a possible method would be to collect patient numbers (but not personally identifying info) from allergists. That might lead to over-counting, but it seems reasonably doable. Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 23:22
  • See my comment to OP. I said largely the same thing and agree it makes the data more reliable, but still far short of objective data because it relies on the patients' interpretations of things their doctors said.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 23:47

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