A new study conducted at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, part of the Consortium of Food Allergy Research at the National Institute of Health (NIH), has found that young children with milk or egg allergies have reactions more often than expected.
The research team followed 512 infants, ages 3 to 15 months, for three years. The children in the study had a previous allergic reaction to milk or eggs, or were thought to be allergic to those foods based on positive skin tests. At the beginning of the study, caregivers were given strategies for avoiding milk and egg products, and written emergency plans with epinephrine prescriptions.
The study found that almost 72% of the children in the study had an allergic reaction over the three year period. More than half of the children had more than one reaction. Startlingly, allergenic foods were given to the children on purpose.
Scientists aren’t sure why a parent or caregiver would give a child an allergenic food. It may be that they want to see if the child has outgrown the allergy. The study found that half of the accidental reactions were from food given to the child by parents, stressing the importance of making sure all caregivers, including siblings, babysitters, and teachers are aware of the allergies.
More than 11% of those reactions were severe, but only 30% of the severe reactions were treated with epinephrine. Caregivers didn’t realize how serious the reaction was, didn’t have the medication available, or were afraid to give the drug to the children.
The most serious allergic reaction, anaphylactic shock, is life-threatening. Tissues in the body release histamine, which makes the airways tighten. The symptoms of anaphylactic shock including abnormal breathing sounds, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing and swallowing, dizziness, nasal congestion, slurred speech, and wheezing, among others.
Dr. Scott Sicherer, one of the study’s authors, said, “this study reinforces the importance of educating parents and other caregivers of children with food allergy about avoiding allergenic foods and using epinephrine to treat severe food-allergic reactions.”
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has published a guideline for diagnosis and management of food allergies. The guidelines can be downloaded at the NIA site.