Food allergies are on the rise and becoming a serious problem among infants and young children, and parents and caregivers are reluctant to treat children once reactions occur, according to a new study.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that more children suffer from allergies to milk, eggs, and peanuts than researchers previously thought, and that there is a lack of knowledge among parents and caregivers on how to avoid and treat allergic reactions.
The study involved 512 infants ages 3 to 15 months who already had milk and egg allergies and were at risk for developing peanut allergies. Over a three-year period, researchers found that despite giving parents and caregivers guidance about avoiding allergenic foods and cross-contamination, 72 percent of the children suffered allergic reactions.
Most of the reactions were triggered by milk (71.2 percent), followed by eggs (21 percent), then peanuts (7.9 percent). A majority of the reactions occurred from ingestion rather than skin contact or inhalation.
It turns out that most of the reactions occurred from accidental exposure, which involved reduced supervision, misreading a food label, cross-contamination, or error in food preparation. Parents were usually the providers of the food in both accidental and non-accidental cases.
In non-accidental cases, parents knowingly gave their children allergenic foods. Researchers said parents may have been trying to test whether their teenagers had outgrown their childhood food allergies.
Even more troubling was that out of the 1,171 allergic reactions that occurred during the study, no treatment was given in 21.3 percent of the reactions. Parents and caregivers cited their hesitance to administer epinephrine, a hormone drug that treats anaphylaxis, an often life-threatening reaction to an allergen. They also admitted they did not realize the child was undergoing an allergic reaction or did not think the reaction was severe.
Researchers noted that these findings show doctors, parents, and caregivers need to work together more to prevent and better treat the alarming rise of food allergies among children. “The findings not only reveal that food-allergic reactions occur at a much higher rate in young children than we thought, they also suggest that more vigilance and increased use of epinephrine is needed,” said Dr. Daniel Rotrosen, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’s Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation.
The full study was published this week in the journal Pediatrics.