“Every other kid seems to be allergic to something these days”
No doubt, you’ve heard someone say something along these lines. Perhaps you’ve even said it.
The presence of allergies is certainly more noticeable, with schools and childcare centres nut-free zones and sections of the supermarket dedicated to allergy-friendly products. But for all this awareness there’s also a lot of confusion around food allergies and what causes them.
What is an Allergy?
An allergy occurs when antibodies in your body’s immune system react to a usually harmless substance, such as certain foods, medications or animal stings. Symptoms can be mild, such as facial swelling, hives or abdominal pain and vomiting or severe, including difficulty breathing and talking, swelling of the throat or collapse. Severe allergic reactions are called anaphylaxis and can result in death without proper treatment. The most common foods to produce allergic reactions are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk, and egg.
Are There More Allergies Now?
Yes, a study released in 2013 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that food allergies in children increased by 50 per cent in the fourteen years leading up to 2011. In Australia, the number of children under four who were admitted to hospital with anaphylaxis caused by food allergies grew by a factor of five in just a decade.
What’s Causing This Increase?
That is the $64,000 question. Research into this area has yet to deliver a clear answer and there are a number of avenues being explored, including delays in introducing the foods that cause allergies, a lack of exposure to infections in early childhood due to increased hygiene, changes to the way foods are processed and the use of nut oils in skin-care products. Obviously, with so many potential avenues, there’s a lot to untangle.
When Do The Allergies Appear?
Allergies can develop at any age, but it’s most common between zero and five
Do People Grow Out of Allergies?
It depends on the allergy. Most children with wheat, dairy, soy or egg issues grow out of it, but three-quarters of children who are allergic to either tree nuts or peanuts, sesame or seafood have them for life. If you develop allergies in adulthood you’re probably stuck with them.
Are Allergies Hereditary?
No, the parents of most children with allergies do not have any themselves. There is a slightly higher risk of having allergies if your sibling does, but it’s still pretty low.
I Think My Child Has An Allergy, What Should I Do?
Obviously, if your child is having a severe reaction you should dial 000 zero immediately. Death from an allergic reaction is rare in Australia, but it’s imperative that you seek medical attention quickly. For less severe allergies, the first step is to have it correctly diagnosed. Symptoms in babies and infants such as colic, reflux, eczema, chronic diarrhoea or not thriving may be indicators of an allergy. Your doctor will ask you questions and may perform a prick test or blood test to determine if your child’s immune system responds to various to a food. It’s important to note that even if these tests come back positive, it doesn’t necessarily confirm an allergy. Your doctor needs to confirm the results
What Shouldn’t I Do
Don’t diagnose allergies yourself or take tests that your doctor has not recommended. Be wary of tests that involve things such as kinesiology, reflexology, hair or skin testing. These have not been proven to effectively diagnose an allergy. Not only are they a waste of money, but an incorrect diagnosis means you’re needlessly avoiding certain foods and failing to address the actual problem, which depending on the kind of allergy, is risky. Putting your child on a highly restrictive diet after an incorrect diagnosis may result in malnutrition.
Food allergies are on the rise, but with the correct diagnosis, you can start managing the issue to keep your child happy, healthy and safe.
For more information on feeding infants and allergy prevention, visit the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
At Caring 4 Kids, all our centres are nut-free and we cater to children with a range of food allergies. Contact us to learn more.