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Nasal smear as an allergy screening test?


20 April, 2020  

A total of 130 million people in Europe suffer from hay fever and other forms of allergic rhinitis.

Until now, these conditions have typically been diagnosed using blood samples or skin prick tests but researchers in Munich have now tested a new diagnostic method.

Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, a professor of environmental medicine at TUM and the director of the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, and her team have studied nasal smears using a method originally developed for blood samples. With a recent development in biochip technology, practitioners have been able for some time now to measure antibody concentrations for 112 different allergens with a single small blood sample.

Prof. Traidl-Hoffmann’s team used this molecular diagnostics technology to measure concentrations of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in the blood and nasal secretions of test subjects. These antibodies play a role in certain allergic responses. The researchers studied individuals with and without sensitisation to the most common airborne allergens, including dust mite castings, grass pollen and the pollen of birch, hazelnut and alder trees.

For the same tests, the blood and nasal smears yielded similar results: They detected identical allergic sensitisation patterns, that is, the same sets of substances for which the body had developed an immune response. This was the case for all airborne allergens investigated. Previous studies had already demonstrated a link between the detection of allergy antibodies in the blood and in nasal secretions for certain aeroallergens. The researchers have now confirmed this correlation for a wide range of such allergens.

A big advantage of allergy diagnostics with a nasal smear is that it is a good option for small children as compared to blood samples or skin prick testing. For that age group, a hyposensitisation therapy is important because allergic rhinitis can develop into allergic asthma,” says Prof. Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann. PD Dr. Stefanie Gilles adds: “We also believe that, with nasal smears, IgE antibodies specific to certain allergies can be detected that cannot be measured in a blood sample. We now need to do further studies to explore that hypothesis.”