Food allergy is an adverse immune response to a food. It can be classified into IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated reactions. Many non-IgE reactions, which are poorly defined both clinically and scientifically, are believed to be T-cell-mediated. Some reactions involve a mixture of both IgE and non-IgE responses and are classified as mixed IgE and non-IgE allergic reactions. Food allergy may be confused with food intolerance, which is a non- immunological reaction that can be caused by enzyme deficiencies, pharmacological agents and naturally occurring substances. Food intolerance will not be covered in this guideline. The starting point for the guideline is a suspicion of food allergy, and the use of an allergy-focused clinical history will help to determine whether a food allergy is likely.
In its review of allergy services in 2006, the Department of Health and Social Care concluded that there was considerable variation in current practice for allergy care, with no agreed treatment pathways, referral criteria or service models. Specifically, it was reported that many people with allergies practised self-care, using alternative sources of support rather than NHS services (for example, complementary services with non-validated tests and treatments).
In the NHS, most allergy care takes place in primary care. People with a clear diagnosis, and mild but persistent symptoms, are usually managed in general practice without referral to a specialist service. Some people with allergies, and the parents or carers of children and young people with allergies, also buy over-the-counter medicines from community or high-street pharmacies. However, if there is diagnostic doubt or symptoms of a more severe disease, GPs often consider referral for a specialist opinion.