Research Scientist

Allergies


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Current Statistic on Allergies:  An estimated 1 in every 13 children (roughly 2 in every classroom) have food allergies. 40% of affected children have experienced anaphylaxis or other severe allergic reactions. Between 1997 and 2011, food allergies in children increased by 50%. (Food Allergy Research and Education).

In 2012, 7.8 million children (10.6%) reported respiratory allergies in the past year. Internationally, sensitization rates to one or more common allergens is approaching 40%-50% in school children. (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology).

Food and respiratory allergy prevalence increased with income level. Children with family income equal to or greater than 200% of the poverty level had the highest prevalence rates. The prevalence of skin allergies decreased with age. In contrast, the prevalence of respiratory allergies increased with age. The prevalence of food and skin allergies increased in children under age 18 years from 1997–2011 (CDC).


Why are allergies on the rise? Dr. Michael Rosenbaum of Columbia University suggests that the almost constant exposure to multiple substances in our environment overstimulates the immune system.  "As a result of this overexposure to multiple environmental toxins, the immune system has become hyper-reactive even to non-toxins," he explains. Many triggers can cause allergies to develop:  environmental irritants including airborne, food, and water contaminants (including tobacco smoke, pesticides, heavy metals, pet and pest dander, food allergens) and infectious agents (viruses and molds).  Along with stress, these factors interact with certain genetic predispositons to throw the immune system off balance.

Another theory, the Hygiene Hypothesis, asserts that children today are too sheltered from infectious agents in their environment, and therefore their immune systems don't have the necessary stimuli to develop properly.

Several theories exist that specifically address the rise in food allergies. In the U.S., many parents and schools have noted the dramatic increase in children allergic to peanut products. This may be due to the practice of processing or roasting peanuts domestically, as compared to other countries where peanuts are consumed in a more natural state.

What is the best approach to handling peanut allergies?  There is evidence that banning peanuts and peanut products from school may actually worsen kids' allergies.  Without regular exposure to peanuts, the body goes into allergic mode when it comes into contact with peanuts.  To avoid this, some doctors believe in exposing children to potentially allergy-inducing foods as young as possible to help the body build up tolerance. This is called desensitization.  When done under a physician's supervision, it can help avoid accidental exposure and risk of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis symptoms include hives, swelling of the mouth or throat, and labored breathing.  

Still others believe that to prevent allergies in babies, it is important to avoid known food allergens when pregnant.  Breastfeeding may also protect newborns against allergies. Common food allergens include fish, shellfish, milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts such as walnuts and cashews.

 

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Last updated 12-7-2017

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