Food Allergies More Common In Young Children
June 26, 2012

Food Allergies More Common In Young Children

Is more epinephrine needed?

A new study, conducted by the NIH-funded Consortium of Food Allergy Research and published in the June 25, 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics, found that young children have an undetermined large number of reactions to milk and egg allergies and other foods.

During a 3 year period, upwards of 70 percent of preschool children experience a higher reaction.   Researchers also found that caregivers failed to administer the medication epinephrine in 70 percent of the relentless and potentially life-threatening reactions.

"Our findings clearly point to a need for parents and other caregivers to be even more vigilant in avoiding allergenic foods and treating reactions appropriately," said David Fleischer, MD, lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health. "They also suggest several strategies that both caregivers and healthcare workers can pursue to make mealtime safe for food-allergic children."

The researchers followed 512 children aged 3-15 months for an average of three years documenting all allergic results to food.   Over the three-year period, the children experienced 1,171 allergic reactions to food. 145 (28 percent) Of the 512 children enrolled, had no allergic reactions, 98 (19 percent) had one reaction and 269 (53 percent) had more than one reaction.

Just over 11 percent (134) of the reactions were classified as severe, and included symptoms such as swelling in the throat, difficulty breathing, a sudden drop in blood pressure, dizziness or fainting. Almost all of the severe symptoms were caused by ingestion of the allergen rather than inhalation or skin contact.

Epinephrine (EpiPen), a medication that caregivers can administer to reduce symptoms while waiting for medical care only treated 30 percent of the severe reactions.

"It is very important for caregivers of food-allergic children to carry an EpiPen with them at all times, know how to recognize a serious reaction and how to use an EpiPen," said Dan Atkins, MD, co-author and professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health. "Correctly using an EpiPen at the right time can save a life."

The majority of the reactions (89 percent) were caused by accidental exposure, accredited primarily to accidental ingestion, miss reading labels and cross-contamination. Approximately half of the allergenic foods were given by persons other than parents.  11 percent of the reactions followed decisive exposures to these foods. Researchers are examining reasons for these intentional exposures. They speculate that it could reflect parents' at-home tests to determine if children have outgrown the food allergy.

The researchers acknowledged several areas for improved education, including the need for constant observation, accurate label reading, avoidance of non-accidental exposure, prevention of cross-contamination, appropriate epinephrine administration, and education of all caretakers.