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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999 May;103(5 Pt 1):907-11.

Intradermal testing for food and chemical sensitivities: a double-blind controlled study.

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  • 1Nova Scotia Environmental Health Centre, Fall River, Nova Scotia, Canada.



Confirming adverse reactions to foods and chemicals is fundamental in providing a basis for diagnosis and treatment of patients with reported environmental sensitivities. Provocation-neutralization testing is widely used in this respect but has not been thoroughly evaluated, therefore remaining a controversial and unproven technique.


This study investigated the validity of intradermal testing for evaluation of reported adverse reactions to a variety of incidents within the patient population at the Nova Scotia Environmental Health Centre.


A total of 132 people who were referred to the Nova Scotia Environmental Health Centre, a dedicated government-funded research and treatment facility for suspected environmental sensitivities, were tested by the technique of provocation-neutralization by the guidelines set out by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. A panel of 13 foods, 9 chemicals, and 4 placebos (normal saline solution) was evaluated in a double-blind, randomized study. Symptoms and skin reactions were recorded, and response rates were determined for all substances, including saline solution injections.


Seventy percent of the patients reported symptoms to 1 or more of the 4 saline solution injections. In comparison, 15% of patients experienced a skin reaction (wheal) to 1 or more injections of saline solution. Only 5% of individuals experienced a wheal to more than 1 saline solution injection, although 40% of the patients reported symptoms to more than 1 saline injection. Patients who experienced 1 or more reactions (wheal or symptoms) to saline solution were more reactive to injected allergens, on average reacting to 67% of active substances. Patients who experienced no reaction to the saline solution did experience a reaction to 48% of injected substances on average. Reaction by symptoms to foods, chemicals, and normal saline solution showed a random pattern, although wheal reactions showed a distinct pattern. Subsequent observations have indicated that experiencing no reaction to previous saline solution injections does not accurately predict response to saline solution in later testing. Some individuals who did not experience a reaction to saline solution in an initial screening later experienced a reaction to saline solution during further testing.


Provocation of symptoms in usual testing conditions is not a useful tool for discriminating between reactions to saline solution and reactions to specific chemicals or foods. Skin response alone may be a more reliable indicator and will require cross-validation with other tests, such as oral and inhalation challenges and comparison with a control population. Heightened sensitivity and chaotic responses may be a feature of chemical sensitivity. Meanwhile, the results of provocation-neutralization testing, using symptoms alone as an indicator of neutralization, should not be used as a basis for clinical intervention.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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