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The predictive value of specific immunoglobulin E levels in serum for the outcome of oral food challenges


Bodo Niggemann, Department of Pediatric Pneumology and Immunology, Children's Hospital Charité, Humboldt University, Augustenburger Platz 1, DE-13353 Berlin, Germany. E-mail:


Background Specific serum IgE is considered as one of the important diagnostic measures in the diagnostic work-up of food allergy.

Objective To evaluate the role of specific serum IgE in predicting the outcome of oral food challenges, and to determine threshold concentrations of specific serum IgE that could render double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges unnecessary.

Methods In 501 children (median age 13 months), 992 controlled oral challenges were performed with cow's milk (CM), hen's egg (HE), wheat and soy. 440/501 (88%) children suffered from atopic dermatitis. For all children, specific IgE concentrations in serum were determined. Sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values, receiver operator characteristics-curves as well as predictive decision points were calculated.

Results Four hundred and forty-five out of 992 oral food challenges with allergens were assessed as positive. Sensitivity of specific serum IgE was 97% for HE, 83% for CM, 69% for soy, and 79% for wheat. Specificity was 51% for HE, 53% for CM, 50% for soy, and 38% for wheat. Calculating 90%, 95% and 99% predicted probabilities using logistic regression revealed predictive decision points of 6.3, 12.6, and 59.2 kU/L for HE, respectively. Subdividing our children in those of below or above 1 year of age resulted in a markedly different predicted probability for HE. For CM, only the 90% predicted probability (88.8 kU/L) could be calculated. No decision points could be determined for CM, wheat and soy.

Conclusion In general, specific serum IgE levels showed a correlation with the outcome of positive oral food challenges for CM and HE. Meaningful predictive decision points can be calculated for HE, which may help to avoid oral food challenges in some cases. However, data need to be ascertained for each allergen separately. Furthermore, the age of the patient population under investigation must also be taken into account.

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