Researchers at the Technical University of Munich have developed a new way to screen for allergies using a simple nasal smear. The technique relies on biochip technology to measure antibodies that play a role in specific allergic responses.
Screening for environmental allergies usually involves a skin prick test that is used to determine which allergens cause a reaction. The test is very unpleasant for some patients, especially small children.
In Europe alone, 130 million people suffer from hay fever or allergic rhinitis, with symptoms like itchy, watery eyes and sneezing.
The research team has demonstrated that a gentle nasal swab combined with biochip technology may ultimately prove to be the simplest method of screening for environmental allergies.
Using a molecular diagnostics technology that was originally developed for analyzing blood, the researchers screened nasal secretions as well as blood samples for concentrations of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These proteins trigger different allergic responses.
The study was focused on individuals with and without sensitivity to the most common airborne allergens, including grass pollen, dust mites, and tree pollen.
The study revealed that the blood and nasal smears detected identical allergic sensitization patterns for all of the airborne allergens investigated.
A link between the detection of allergy antibodies in the blood and in nasal secretions has already been demonstrated in previous studies. The current research confirms this link, and shows that both methods can detect a wide range of aeroallergens.
Study lead author Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann is a professor of Environmental Medicine and the director of the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Helmholtz Zentrum München.
“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 hypo-sensitization therapy is important because allergic rhinitis can develop into allergic asthma,” said Professor Traidl-Hoffmann.
“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,” added study co-author Dr. Stefanie Gilles.
The researxh is published in the journal Allergy.