Five Reasons Not to Self-Diagnose Your Child’s Food Allergy

girl with xray and stethoscope

Remember the days when an actual book was your encyclopedia? Seeking information about any subject generally required a library visit to peruse one or more objects that you could touch and even smell, or checking out a book and reading it. The Internet has long since replaced the library as a primary source for research. It’s easier than ever to research any topic from the comfort of your home using the Internet. In fact, the pervasive use of one major search engine has transformed the proper noun into a verb. Have you “Googled” something recently? The relative ease by which Internet users can find information has led some people to begin searching for, and encountering, information and advice regarding various medical illnesses and injuries, including children’s food allergies. It has also led to concern surrounding the issue of self-diagnosis.


Currently, an Internet search of “how to self-diagnose food allergies” returns a long list of websites containing home remedies, checklists, guides and tips for managing, diagnosing and treating food allergies. That search result also includes, sprinkled throughout, medical journals, physician hosted websites and advocate groups explicitly advising against self-diagnosing and treatment. The consensus is self-diagnosing your child’s food allergy without consulting a physician is dangerous.

Why You Should Not Self-Diagnose Your Child’s Food Allergy

1. Reliability of Information

As the Internet continues to grow and evolve, users often contend with learning to navigate it while improving their research skills. Skillful Internet research is essential to locating helpful, reliable information. Scientific studies indicate people who are less skilled at Internet research tend to treat anecdotal information as evidence, and rely upon irrelevant, unreliable sources. This faulty reliance often leads “to inappropriate decision making” as wells as an inability to appropriately apply the information obtained. Yet, in 2009, 61 percent of Americans went online to obtain information related to health, and said the information they found affected their decisions on how to treat conditions. That number continues to grow.

Because the practice of seeking health information online is widespread, several websites have provided guidelines to evaluate the quality of that information. However, many Internet users continue to rely on perceived credibility, trustworthiness and expertise rather that actual evidence of those qualities. Basing decisions about children’s food allergies on unreliable sources could lead to devastating results.

2. Misdiagnoses

Fifty to ninety percent of self-reported food allergies are not allergies but rather some other medical issue. Many children actually suffering from sinusitis have been misdiagnosed with a food allergy. While sinusitis is not a deadly illness, misdiagnosed children suffer much longer than they should had they been properly diagnosed by a doctor and given appropriate treatment. Other illnesses that are often mistaken for food allergies in children are asthma and food intolerances like lactose intolerance and celiac disease.

3. Nutritional Deficiencies

A balanced diet is important for proper nutrition, especially in children. When a child is misdiagnosed with a food allergy, allergen avoidance methods may result in nutritional deficiencies. Without real evidence, parents may cut out entire important food groups believed to be the culprits of their children’s distress. If the foods limited or eliminated are not causing the issue, children could unnecessarily be prevented from receiving vital nutrition.

4. Misunderstanding Allergies, Allergens and Allergen Families

When a child’s food allergy is self-diagnosed using the Internet, important information may be missed. A phenomenon called “cross-reactivity” describes an occurrence when the body reacts not only to the original allergen but also to a similar allergen. For instance, an allergy to shellfish may have a cross reactivity to tree nuts, fish and/or iodine. Misunderstanding the relationship between possible allergen families and cross reactivity could lead to overlooking an allergen that may have deadly consequences if ingested.

5. Poor Treatment of Allergic Reaction

Online advice for treating allergic reaction can be very unreliable. In some cases, anecdotal information has identified Benadryl as a treatment for anaphylaxis. This is a deadly and inappropriate response to anaphylaxis. Benadryl has no effect on anaphylactic reactions and can be the difference between life and death in an anaphylactic emergency. Additionally, proper administration of prescription medication is essential. A visit to the physician can provide appropriate information about medications, their actions and interactions with other items, and appropriate alternative treatments.

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