News article

Cases of food allergy 'have doubled in black children

Posted:  Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Though food allergies are on the rise in children, researchers are reporting in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology that self-reported food allergy has nearly doubled over the past 23 years in black children. The investigators say their results could show a possible food allergy prediction.

A 2013 report revealed that children's food allergies cost the US nearly $25 billion every year. But more importantly, having a food allergy puts children at risk of suffering anaphylaxis - an allergic reaction that causes swelling and breathing difficulties.

Though a recent study suggested a person is more likely to be murdered than die from a food allergy, parents of children with allergies face difficulties in ensuring they avoid foods containing the allergen.

Dr. Corinne Keet, lead study author and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, says their latest research found a "striking food allergy trend" that needs further investigation.

She adds:

"Although African Americans generally have higher levels of IgE, the antibody the immune system creates more of when one has an allergy, it is only recently that they have reported food allergy more frequently than white children."

"Whether the observed increase is due to better recognition of food allergy or is related to environmental changes remains an open question," Dr. Keet says.

Importance of food allergy diagnosis

The investigators analyzed data on 452,237 children between 1988 and 2011, and they found that food allergy increased among black children at a rate of 2.1% per decade, in Hispanic children at a rate of 1.2% and in white children at 1%.

Though the team describes the numbers as "alarming," Dr. Keet notes that it is important to remember these are self-reported allergies.

"Many of these children did not receive a proper food allergy diagnosis from an allergist," she says. "Other conditions such as food intolerance can often be mistaken for an allergy, because not all symptoms associated with foods are caused by food allergy."

However, food allergies are serious for reasons other than risk of anaphylaxis. If a food allergy is not correctly diagnosed, patients sometimes exclude certain foods from their diet unnecessarily, leading to malnourishment.

Allergist Dr. Wesley Burks, a fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) who worked on another study released in the same journal today, notes that individuals allergic to milk, egg, soy and wheat "are more likely to tolerate these allergens over time, than those allergic to peanuts and tree nuts."

That said, a study published in The Lancet recently suggested that exposure to peanuts builds immunity in allergic children over time, though the study's authors warned that this technique should only be carried out with assistance from a medical professional.

Dr. Marshall Gailen, allergist and editor cautions:

"If you think you have symptoms of a food allergy, you should see an allergist for proper testing, diagnosis and treatment. You should never take matters into your own hands, whether it is self-treating your allergy or introducing an allergenic food back into your diet to see if you're still allergic."

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Reference:

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) news release via Newswise, accessed 28 February 2014.