While the statistics may vary a bit from study to study, all health professionals agree: there has been a huge increase in children’s food allergies in the past ten years. About four children in one hundred children now suffer from some degree of allergic reaction to certain foods. In addition, there has been an increase in serious allergic reactions requiring hospitalization. Some call it an allergy epidemic. The agreements end when they begin to explore the reasons for these frightening numbers.
A food allergy is a potentially serious immune response to specific foods or food additives. There are eight main food allergies accounting for 90 percent of allergic reactions. These are milk products, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Symptoms suffered in the reactions include tingling around the mouth and lips, swelling of mouth or throat and hives, breathing difficulties and in some cases a sudden drop in blood pressure. In the worst cases vomiting and diarrhea may occur and the patient may become unconscious. This most serious reaction is called anaphylactic shock and is life-threatening.
While some children seem to outgrow their allergies as they age, many never do. They need to learn to avoid the offending foods, and parents must be proactive in reading labels on food packaging. In addition they must educate other family members, teachers, caregivers and anyone else caring for the child to protect anyone from serving foods dangerous to the child. The child will learn over time to avoid the foods on their own. In some cases working with a dietician to plan healthy and balanced menus may be helpful.
The hundred dollar question is, what is causing the huge increase in children’s food allergies? The answers fall into four main categories.
Environmental changes and modified food
Many scientists now believe that the changes made to such food products as soy, corn and wheat may be the cause of the problems. Since 1996 genes have artificially been inserted into the DNA of various food items such as soy and corn. The result has been larger crops with more protein, but a rise in allergic reactions to the products.
Fetal immune development
The mother’s diet during pregnancy may later affect her child’s immune reactions. Such intake as a high level of saturated fats is being studied as a root cause of reactions. Another line of study is the question of whether or not breastfeeding decreases allergic reactions.
The new emphasis on hand sanitizers and the fact that children spend much more time indoors than playing out of doors combine to produce children with little exposure to dirt and bacteria as they grow. Thus their immune systems have not developed to ward off allergic reactions.
Increased air pollution from a variety of offending sources may have decreased or suppressed our immune systems.
If food allergies are suspected it’s very important to follow up with your pediatrician. He may find it necessary to refer the child to specialists. If the child has serious reactions, it may be necessary to have an injection of epinephrine available for the child at all times to keep him safe.
The discussions on this serious issue are very much in transition. To stay current with the discussion, refer to the following websites.