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Allergy

Updated 01 October 2020

CHECK LIST | Three questions that can identify a potential chemical allergy

Think you might be allergic to a chemical like cleaning agents and tobacco smoke? Scientists have developed a survey that can identify the likelihood of a chemical intolerance.

  • Scientists developed a three-question survey to identify those at high risk of chemical intolerances.
  • It can help speed up the diagnosis process for clinicians.
  • However, it needs to be used in conjunction with more detailed questionnaires for an official diagnosis.

It's not a quick process to determine an intolerance or allergy to food, chemicals and medication. It requires intensive historical investigation, tests and long questionnaires before an official diagnosis can be made.

This is especially true for chemical intolerance – allergies to things like pesticides, tobacco smoke, cleaning agents, drugs, mould and other air contaminants – which has received far less attention than food allergies in scientific studies. There's also little consensus on what defines a chemical intolerance due to the diversity of allergens and reactions.

READ | Nine food allergy myths debunked by an expert

Brief inventory

Scientists from the University of Texas have, however, developed a three-question brief survey that could identify those at risk much faster than other questionnaires, publishing their new method in PLOS ONE.

Called the Brief Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (BREESI), it groups all the most common allergies into three sections covered in the commonly-used 50 questions of the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI).

This questionnaire aims to identify chemical intolerances that scale the severity of the allergic reaction. BREESI is like a condensed version of QEESI requiring only "yes" or "no" answers instead of involving a scale, which could speed up the process of diagnosis.

"Our goal was to create a brief but sensitive instrument for assessing chemical intolerance in clinical settings and epidemiological research," explain the scientists.

READ MORE | How good microbes could help reduce the risk of allergies

See the three-question survey below:

You can access the QEESI survey online here.

Accuracy in the field

To test the accuracy of BREESI, they asked 293 random patients in a clinic's waiting room and online surveys to complete both the BREESI and QEESI surveys for comparative purposes.

Almost 24% of the respondents ticked "yes" for all three BREESI questions, 28.7% chose only one item and 22.2% chose two items. In comparison to QEESI, the short survey was right 97% of the time when three items were ticked off, 92% for two items, 73% for one item and 95% accurate when no items were selected.

"We have developed and tested a screening questionnaire for chemical, food and drug intolerances that can be administered in less than one minute.

"If indicated by the BREESI score, the QEESI can be administered in 15–20 minutes. Previously, tallying symptoms and symptom severities, as well as taking detailed exposure histories, could take hours, deterring some clinicians from evaluating patients for chemical intolerance."

The BREESI isn't designed to replace the QEESI, but rather to more quickly identify patients who require more tests and improving time management for clinicians.

READ | Pollen season is upon us - know when your sneezes, sniffles are allergies and not something worse

Image credit: Pixabay/Gabi Zietsman/Canva

 

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Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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