Clin Exp Allergy. 1992 Oct; 22 Suppl 3(): 1-44.
Allergy. Conventional and alternative concepts. A report of the Royal College of Physicians Committee on Clinical Immunology and Allergy.
Allergy is an exaggerated response of the immune system to external substances. It plays a role in a wide range of diseases. In some, such as summer hayfever, the symptoms are due entirely to allergy. In other conditions, particularly asthma, eczema and urticaria, allergy plays a part in some patients but not all. In these situations, allergy may have either a major role or provide just one of many triggers. In an individual patient's illness, the importance of allergy may change with time. The most common allergens (substances causing allergy) are grass and tree pollens, the house dust mite, products from pets and other animals, agents encountered in industry, wasp and bee venom, drugs, and certain foods. Food allergy presents a particularly difficult problem. Some individuals who react to food suffer from food allergy in its strict sense but in others there is no evidence of an alteration in the immune system. Here the term 'food intolerance' is preferable. Conventional doctors treat allergy by allergen avoidance--where this is possible--and drugs that relieve symptoms. In a few selected cases, in which other methods have failed, immunotherapy (desensitisation or hyposensitisation) is recommended. Although patients who consult practitioners of alternative allergy may do so by preference, it is often also because they are dissatisfied with the conventional approach to diagnosis and treatment, or because they have conditions which conventional doctors do not accept as having an allergic basis. There is a very wide range of alternative approaches to allergy, including the methods used by clinical ecologists and other treatments such as acupuncture and homoeopathy. Hypnosis may have a small role to play in helping the asthmatic and similar effects have been suggested for acupuncture. Furthermore, it is likely that there are still many active ingredients in medicinal plants used by herbalists but these need to be clearly identified and purified before their usefulness can be evaluated properly. Apart from these situations, we have yet to be convinced by substantial evidence that any of the other alternative methods of diagnosing or treating allergic disease are of proven value. There have, however, been many false and misleading claims and serious harm may be caused by misdiagnosis or delays in appropriate treatment. The public should be warned against costly methods of diagnosis and treatment which have not been validated.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)