Purpose of review: To evaluate recent data on the causative role of specific IgE antibodies, as well as the performance of IgE diagnostic tests, in allergic occupational asthma induced by high (HMW) or low-molecular-weight (LMW) agents.
Recent findings: Skin prick testing (SPT) and specific IgE assays are useful to document allergy to most HMW allergens and some LMW agents. These tests, however, are limited by the lack of standardized and commercially available reagents. There is a wide variability among the quality of occupational allergen extracts used for SPT and the sensitivity of several SPT solutions is low. In addition, many individuals with allergen-specific serum IgE and/or positive SPT to specific HMW allergens do not have clinical symptoms. Sensitization or allergenic cross-reactivity to allergens or epitopes from unrelated sources may interfere in the diagnosis of IgE-mediated allergy, giving rise to false-positive results, particularly when cross-reactive carbohydrate determinants (CCDs) are involved. The immune responses to these ubiquitous structures may interfere with the diagnosis of occupational allergy. Component-resolved diagnosis of IgE-mediated allergic diseases (occupational and nonoccupational) using panels of native or recombinant allergens, or micro-arrayed allergens, have been proposed to identify specific molecules responsible for these disorders and to overcome false-positive in-vitro test results.
Summary: Improvement and standardization of SPT solutions for occupational allergens are highly recommended. More refined diagnostic tools than specific IgE measurements are being developed, such as inhibition assays of IgE binding to CCDs with specific carbohydrate molecules, and component-resolved diagnosis.