June 20, 2011

Food Allergies On The Rise For US Children

New findings from an online survey in the most recent edition of Pediatrics finds that 1 in 12 children in the US suffer from food allergies, Reuters Health is reporting. One third of those had severe allergies and minority children are at greatest risk of having food allergies.

Of those, 30 percent suffered from multiple food allergies and 39 percent had a history of severe reactions. This number is up from previous studies which had estimated that anywhere between 2 and 8 of every 100 kids in the US has a food allergy.

Lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago explains that allergies are a particularly difficult chronic condition because kids can't escape food in any part of their daily lives.

"What I hope this paper will do is open this awareness to how common (food allergy) is and how severe it can be, and develop policies for schools and sporting events and any activities that kids participate in to make it clear that everybody is looking out for these kids," she said.

Previous studies surveyed only emergency room visits that resulted in a diagnosis of a reaction to food. Gupta and her fellow researchers instead wanted to design a study focused solely on the rate and severity of food allergies. They surveyed a nationally representative sample of almost 40,000 US adults who lived with a child under 18.

An online questionnaire was filled out by adults about allergies based on a single child in their household, reporting whether or not the child had any signs and symptoms of a food allergy, had ever been diagnosed with an allergy by a doctor, and had ever had a severe allergic reaction to food.

The results showed that 8 percent, almost 6 million children, had a diagnosed food allergy or convincing symptoms that indicated an allergy, the Chicago Sun Times reported. The most common allergic reaction was to peanuts, milk, and shellfish.

What was interesting was not just how many kids had allergies, Gupta said, but how many of those allergies were severe - cutting off a kid's airway or causing blood pressure to drop.

"One of our big findings was that 2 in 5 kids who had allergies had a severe reaction or a life-threatening reaction. There are a lot of misconceptions of what allergies are," she added. "When you think of allergies, you don't think of life-threatening."

"There are a lot of misconceptions of what allergies are," Gupta added. "When you think of allergies, you don't think of life-threatening."

The research also revealed that black and Asian kids had higher chances of having a food allergy than white kids. However that they were less likely to have that allergy diagnosed by a doctor. That disparity "needs to be addressed," Dr. Scott Sicherer, an allergy researcher at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, explained.

"The family is saying that their child had convincing reactions and yet they weren't really evaluated to confirm that with a doctor," said Sicherer, who was not involved in the study.

"Is that because they're not getting the health care they need? Is that because there's not an appropriate amount of concern? I would be worried that the next reaction could be severe and they're not prepared for it."

While the findings can't show whether or not food allergies are on the rise, Gupta thinks that's the case. "As a clinician, I see it a lot more," Gupta said. Sicherer agreed that he thinks food allergies are becoming more frequent, but said that researchers aren't sure why that is.


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