Study Finds Food Allergies in Children More Common than Once Thought

A recent study in the journal “Pediatrics” on childhood food allergies, the largest of its kind, found that 6 million kids under the age of 18 have food allergies in United States. This is higher than previously thought.

You’re Allergic to What?

The most common foods kids are allergic to are:

  • Shellfish
  • Egg
  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Of these, the most common allergies were to peanuts (25.2 percent), milk (21.2 percent) and shellfish (17.2 percent).

Almost 40 percent (3 million) of these are cases are severe reactions. This has the potential to disrupt the quality of life for the kids and families affected. One common worry is avoiding certain food and how to treat properly if a reaction occurs while going on vacations, going to school and restaurants.

Dr. Scott Sicherer, professor of pediatrics at Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center explains one theory for why food allergies are on the rise is the “cleanliness or hygiene hypothesis,” which holds that people are living differently now than when we lived on farms, with smaller families using more antibiotics to protect against infection. This causes the immune system to attack harmless things like food, since it doesn’t have the germs from the environment to fight against.

Dr. Sicherer also explains that the common allergen foods may be digested differently and perk up the immune system, causing the food reaction in these kids.

What Can Parents Do?

If a food allergy is suspected, the first thing a parent should do is talk with the child’s doctor. Document symptoms and the foods eaten to take to the appointment with you. This will help your doctor understand and see a common pattern. More than likely, an allergy test will be recommended.

Also, have a list of questions ready a head of time for the doctor. Writing them down will help you stay on task during the appointment and help you to remember exactly what you want and need answers to.

Some common symptoms of a food allergy are:

  • Hives
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Rashes
  • Mouth itching
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain

These symptoms usually occur within minutes to one hour after the food is consumed.

Researchers don’t know what’s behind the rise in child food alergies. But some, including Dr. Sicherer, believe that the conventional wisdom — that children are less likely to develop food allergies to foods they aren’t exposed to as infants — is wrong, and that keeping kids away from problematic foods completely may prolong the time it takes to overcome their allergies.

Food allergies run in families, so eating and encouraging a healthy and balanced diet for all family members is a great way to start. If you have an infant, breast feeding helps to protect from these common food allergies. If breastfeeding isn’t for you, putting the baby on a low-allergen formula can help as well. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions regarding that.

You can watch a CNN interview with Dr. Sicherer below. Do you have a child with food allergies? What tips have you found helpful?

Photo credit: slopjop

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