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Is electrodermal testing as effective as skin prick tests for diagnosing allergies? A double blind, randomised block design study

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 20 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:131
  1. George T Lewith (GL3{at}, honorary senior research fellowa,
  2. Julian N Kenyon, co-directord,
  3. Jackie Broomfield, research nursea,
  4. Philip Prescott, professor of statisticsb,
  5. Jonathan Goddard, statisticianc,
  6. Stephen T Holgate, MRC clinical professor of immunopharmacologya
  1. a Department of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton SO16 6YD
  2. b Faculty of Mathematical Studies, University of Southampton
  3. c Department of Medical Statistics and Computing, University of Southampton
  4. d Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine, Southampton SO15 2DT
  1. Correspondence to: G T Lewith
  • Accepted 20 October 2000


Objective: To evaluate whether electrodermal testing for environmental allergies can distinguish between volunteers who had previously reacted positively on skin prick tests for allergy to house dust mite or cat dander and volunteers who had reacted negatively to both allergens.

Design: Double blind, randomised block design.

Setting: A general practice in southern England.

Participants: 15 volunteers who had a positive result and 15 volunteers who had a negative result on a previous skin prick test for allergy to house dust mite or cat dander.

Intervention: Each participant was tested with 6 items by each of 3 operators of the Vegatest electrodermal testing device in 3 separate sessions (a total of 54 tests per participant). For each participant the 54 items comprised 18 samples each of house dust mite, cat dander, and distilled water, though these were randomly allocated among the operators in each session. A research nurse sat with the participant and operator in all sessions to ensure blinding and adherence to the protocol and to record the outcome of each test.

Outcome: The presence or absence of an allergy according to the standard protocol for electrodermal testing.

Results: All the non-atopic participants completed all 3 testing sessions (810 individual tests); 774 (95.5%) of the individual tests conducted on the atopic participants complied with the testing protocol. The results of the electrodermal tests did not correlate with those of the skin prick tests. Electrodermal testing could not distinguish between atopic and non-atopic participants. No operator of the Vegatest device was better than any other, and no single participant's atopic status was consistently correctly diagnosed.

Conclusion: Electrodermal testing cannot be used to diagnose environmental allergies.


  • Funding The study was supported by funding from Vega Grieshaber, the Asthma Allergy and Inflammation Research Trust, and the Foundation for Integrated Medicine.

  • Competing interests GTL and JNK formerly had interests in a company involved in the distribution of Vega Grieshaber products and both have received fees for speaking at a seminar on the Vegatest.

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    Further details of electrodermal tests are available on the BMJ's website

  • Accepted 20 October 2000
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