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Food Allergies in Kids

June 13, 2015

By Douglas McMahon, MD, CMO, Allergy and Asthma Center of Minnesota; President, Minnesota Allergy Society

“Why does it seem like everyone has food allergies now, when I grew up nobody had food allergies,” a frustrated mother asked me recently. She is not alone. As a pediatric allergy specialist I am seeing the great increase in food allergies on a daily basis.

Almost every day I see a child with allergies to one of the big five: cow’s milk, hen’s egg, wheat, soy and peanuts. In fact the rate of food allergies has almost doubled over the last 20 years. However, we may be able to help this trend.

Many studies show that earlier introduction of foods may help prevent food allergies. This trend started gaining steam after a physician recognized that children in other countries who were fed foods with peanut products at a very early age did not develop peanut allergies.

Now the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has rescinded their previous statements in recommending the delayed introduction of highly allergenic foods. The AAP currently recommends introducing solid foods at age 6 months and exposing the baby to a variety of foods.

If a child already has food allergies all hope is not lost. The majority of children who have an allergy to hen’s egg, cow’s milk, wheat and soy will outgrow this allergy. A high percentage will lose this sensitivity around age 5, but it does appear this age is increasing.
Some children who have an allergy to either cow’s milk or hen’s egg are able to tolerate these products in the baked form. This not only opens a large area of foods, but also regular ingestion of these baked forms can speed the resolution of the allergy all together. Those with egg or milk allergy should see a board-certified allergy specialist to see if baked egg or baked milk can be added to the diet.

Unfortunately, the majority of infants and children with peanut or tree nut allergies will not outgrow their allergy. However, many studies are showing promising results looking at desensitization. This entails, in a doctor’s office or hospital setting, giving incremental doses of the allergenic food. Many academic centers are investigating different protocols and are having various degrees of success. As of right now this is still not a recommended practice, but I assume it will be in the very near future.
This is an exciting time in regards to food allergies in that we will hopefully find ways to help the millions of children and their families that are affected. To keep up to date on food allergies, follow my blogs at allergymn.com.

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