Food Allergy Myths Can Negatively Impact Medical Decisions

The social media stream on food allergies is never-ending. Is there any harm in consumers being exposed to this potentially unreliable information? Yes, according to a recent presentation at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting in Houston.

“Social media has some benefits, and there is a lot of good information out there,” says allergist David Stukus, MD, chair of the ACAAI Annual Meeting Program Committee and session presenter. “But social media gives everyone an equal voice—even those who are not giving out correct information. The years of training and clinical experience allergists have is given the same weight as unqualified individuals performing their own ‘research’ using online search engines.”

Stukus says it’s unsurprising people search online for health information but that there are a lot of falsehoods, both deliberate and not. “This misinformation has a negative impact on medical decisions made by people with food allergies,” Stukus says. “For example, you can easily find online promises of ‘food allergy cures,’ even though none exist. These treatments look very appealing, but they haven’t been properly tested and people have no way of knowing whether they’re good or bad. The same is true for at-home food sensitivity testing. People spend hundreds of dollars to be sent a long list of foods they are reportedly ‘sensitive’ to, and they’re told to avoid the foods. But the results are meaningless.”

Stukus recommends people bring online information to their appointments to discuss with their allergist. “I’d much rather someone with a food allergy bring me information so we can discuss it rather than starting a treatment without asking my opinion,” Stukus says, adding that patients should ask for time to go over questions. Anyone with a food allergy might also want to ask their allergist for recommendations on reputable and trustworthy sources on food allergies.

“There are common tactics used by people selling products or services that everyone should be aware of when they search online,” Stukus says. “Be suspicious of information falsely claiming to be scientific, as well as cherry-picked data, personal anecdotes, and paid celebrity endorsements. Echo chambers, where you only hear opinions that echo your own, should also be avoided. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is a myth, regardless of how many likes, shares, or retweets it has.”

— Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology