Food allergies currently affect up to 8 percent of children; however, in light of the high frequency of reactions, all caregivers of children with food allergies require better training and more education, says a new study published in the July 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
In the study “Allergic Reactions to Foods in Preschool-Aged Children in a Prospective Observational Food Allergy Study,” the researchers examined the circumstances of allergic reactions caused by food allergies in a group of preschoolers.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the symptoms of an allergic reaction include rashes, hives, lowered blood pressure, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, and even death. Approximately 1 out of 5, or an estimated 50 million, Americans suffer from allergies. Each year, more than 200 deaths occur as a result of food allergies.
To examine the circumstances of allergic reactions to foods, the researchers observed 512 infants between the ages of 3 and 15 months at 5 observational sites. All of the children had documented food allergies to milk or eggs or had likely but not yet diagnosed food allergies to milk or eggs; 173 had no confirmed baseline food allergies, 278 were allergic to milk or eggs, and 53 had food allergies to both milk and eggs.
Over the course of the study, a total of 1,171 allergic reactions occurred in 367 (71 percent) of the participants. Out of the total number of reactions, 269 (52.5 percent) reported multiple allergic reactions. Three foods accounted for the majority (71.2 percent) of the reactions caused by food allergies: milk with 495 (42.3 percent), eggs with 246 (21 percent), and peanuts with 93 (7.9 percent).
The majority of the reactions to the food allergies to milk, eggs, or peanuts occurred as a result of accidental exposure; 729 (87.4 percent) of exposures occurred accidentally through unintentional ingestion, label reading error, cross-contamination, error in preparation, and manufacturer labeling error.
Fifty-two of the allergic reactions were treated with epinephrine, which is an injection commonly used to treat allergic reactions resulting from food allergies. However, of the 134 (11.4 percent) that the researchers classified as severe, only 40 (29.9 percent) were treated with epinephrine.
Furthermore, caregivers admitted that the use of epinephrine was warranted in 65 additional cases. The reasons cited for not administering epinephrine for food allergies included not recognizing an allergic reaction (47.7 percent), epinephrine unavailable (23.1 percent), too afraid to administer the drug (12.3 percent), waiting for more symptoms (6.2 percent), and unsure if the drug were actually needed (3.1 percent).
In light of the high frequency of allergic reactions caused by food allergies as well as the low frequency of treatment with epinephrine, the researchers concluded that better management of food allergies in children including more education for caregivers is needed. As the researchers concluded:
“The results of this prospective study revealed a high frequency of reactions from accidental and nonaccidental exposures. Based upon the characteristics of the reactions, areas requiring improved education include anticipatory guidance on persistent vigilance, accurate label reading, prevention of crosscontamination, avoidance of purposeful exposures, and appropriate treatment of allergic reactions.”
Would you be able to handle a reaction caused by food allergies?