A further evaluation of the clinical use of specific IgE antibody testing in allergic diseases


Lars Söderström
Pharmacia Diagnostics
SE-751 82 Uppsala


Background: The evaluation and interpretation of the results from blood tests measuring specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody concentration is currently made using the dichotomized result from the test despite a quantitative result is obtained. It has been shown that different levels of IgE antibodies, assessed by blood test and skin prick test, may have a relation to presence of symptoms, implying that there is more information in a quantitative result than in the dichotomous – positive or negative.

Objective: To investigate the clinical utility of quantification of IgE antibodies in the diagnosis of allergic patients and whether such procedure has any advantage to the presently dichotomously used sensitivity and specificity at a fixed cut-off.

Methods: Data from a previously published study (R. Paganelli, I.J. Ansoteugi, J. Sastre, C.-E. Lange, M.H.W.M. Roovers, H. de Groot, N.B. Lindholm, P.W. Ewan, Allergy, 1998; 53) analysing diagnosis of allergic patients in four different clinics were re-evaluated. In the original study consecutive patients with suspected IgE-mediated allergy had been examined and evaluated according to the clinical routine at each clinic, using case history, physical examination, skin tests and laboratory tests, except the test to be evaluated, and given an ‘doctors’ allergen-specific diagnosis’ as positive or negative. In the present study the relation between ‘doctors’ allergen-specific diagnosis’, expressed as pos/neg, and the quantitative levels of specific IgE antibody concentration was analysed using a logistic regression model. This presentation of results was also compared with the more common characteristics of sensitivity and specificity, and also with Receiver–operator characteristics (ROC) curves.

Results: The used logistic model described the relationship between allergen-specific diagnosis in each study and the levels of IgE antibodies. The shape of the curve illustrated the physicians’ disposition for a positive diagnose in the study, in relation to the specific IgE antibody level. Differences in the shape of the curve was found both between allergens within clinics and between clinics for the same allergen. No association could be demonstrated between prevalence and shape of the curve.

Conclusions: Conventional sensitivity/specificity figures or ROC concepts only use the qualitative statement of whether IgE is present or not. A risk assessment using the quantitative level of IgE antibody to an allergen increases the utility of the information in clinical context compared with a qualitative statement of whether IgE is present or not. The quantification demonstrated the link between specific IgE antibodies and allergic reactions. The use of objective, well performing quantitative tests should help improve diagnostic accuracy and might provide a way for the patient to understand and manage his or her daily situation and risk for reactions.