Peanut challenge: a retrospective study of 140 patients


Ann Clarke, Division of Clinical Epidemiology, Montreal General Hospital, 1650 Cedar Avenue, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3G 1A4. E-mail:


Background Accurate diagnosis of peanut allergy is essential given that it is a lifelong and potentially fatal food allergy. Diagnosis relies on patient history, prick skin test (PST), and in many situations, food challenge. More information is required on the safety of food challenge and the informational value of a PST.

Objectives Primary: to assess the safety of peanut challenges. Secondary: to estimate the sensitivity, specificity, and the positive and negative predictive values of PST to peanut performed in those who underwent a peanut challenge.

Methods A retrospective study of peanut challenges performed at a tertiary care paediatric hospital allergy clinic between January 1994 and November 1998.

Results Of the 140 peanut challenges performed on 140 patients, 18 were positive. The most frequent adverse clinical effects of positive peanut challenges were: urticaria, oropharyngeal irritation, rhinitis, vomiting and abdominal pain. Among the 18 patients who had a positive result, 10 required medical treatment (antihistamines, ± epinephrine, ± salbutamol) to control the allergic reaction. The sensitivity, specificity, and the positive and negative predictive values of PST to peanut in this group of children undergoing a peanut challenge were 100%, 62.3%, 28.1% and 100%, respectively.

Conclusions Given the poor positive predictive value and specificity of PST, a peanut challenge is usually required to diagnose peanut allergy with certainty when the PST is positive. In cases of a clear history of anaphylaxis to peanut and a positive PST, challenges are unwarranted. When the history is strongly suggestive and the PST is borderline positive, i.e. 3 or 4 mm, peanut challenge is generally necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Given the excellent negative predictive value and sensitivity of PST, a blinded peanut challenge is usually unnecessary in the context of a negative PST except for patients with a history strongly suggestive of immediate hypersensitivity. These patients should be individually assessed for the need to undergo a blinded challenge. The peanut challenge is a useful and safe diagnostic tool when performed by qualified personnel under appropriate conditions.