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Prediction of challenge test results by flour-specific IgE and skin prick test in symptomatic bakers


Dr Vera van Kampen
BGFA – Research Institute of Occupational Medicine
German Social Accident Insurance
Ruhr-University Bochum
Bürkle-de-la-Camp-Platz 1
44789 Bochum


Background:  Wheat and rye flours are among the most important allergens causing occupational asthma. Usually, the diagnosis of baker’s asthma is based on inhalation challenge tests with flours.

Aims of the study:  To evaluate the relevance of flour-specific serum immunoglobulin E (IgE) and skin prick test (SPT) in the diagnosis of baker’s asthma and to define flour-specific IgE concentrations and wheal sizes that allow a prediction of the outcome of challenge testing.

Methods:  Bronchial and nasal challenge tests with wheat (rye) flour were performed in 71 (95) symptomatic bakers. Determinations of flour-specific IgE as well as SPTs were performed in all subjects. Analyses included the calculation of sensitivity, specificity, positive (PPV) and negative predictive values (NPV) at different IgE concentrations and different wheal sizes, and receiver-operating characteristics (ROC) plots with the challenge result as gold standard.

Results:  Thirty-seven bakers were positive in the challenge with wheat flour, while 63 were positive with rye flour. Depending on the flour-specific IgE concentrations (wheal size), PPV was 74–100% (74–100%) for wheat and 82–100% (91–100%) for rye flour, respectively. The minimal cut-off values with a PPV of 100% were 2.32 kU/l (5.0 mm) for wheat flour and 9.64 kU/l (4.5 mm) for rye flour. The shapes of the ROC plots were similar for wheat and rye flour.

Conclusion:  High concentrations of flour-specific IgE and clear SPT results in symptomatic bakers are good predictors for a positive challenge test. Challenge tests with flours may be avoided in strongly sensitized bakers.