A study has painted a worrisome picture of the state of food allergy management in children, including a lack of vigilance by some parents and caregivers – and even intentional exposures to allergens.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics in July 2012, followed 512 infants between the ages of three months and 15 months over three years. The results were alarming: 72 percent of infants experienced at least one reaction during the test period, while 53 percent had at least two. The annualized reaction rate was nearly one per year, and the most common reason for a reaction was a lack of vigilance.
In 51 percent of the reactions, the food was provided by a caregiver other than a parent. What’s worse, in some cases the allergic reactions experienced were no accident: 11 percent of reactions to milk, egg, or peanut where the result of an allergen-containing food being “knowingly provided” to a child.
The researchers were taken aback by the finding: “We didn’t expect that anybody would do that,” says Dr. Scott Sicherer of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who was a lead investigator.
In fact, this behavior was discovered by accident: only after reading the questionnaires provided to parents did researchers find out this was occurring. It emerged that some people were self-testing their children for allergies; Sicherer stresses that such tests should not be tried outside a doctor’s office.
As well, epinephrine was only used in 30 percent of the 134 severe reactions that occurred. This was largely attributed to lack of education: 15 percent of parents or caregivers were either afraid or unsure whether to inject. Sicherer notes that epinephrine is the medicine of choice in a serious reaction, and a very safe drug to use.
Researchers continue to monitor this group and hope to learn more about the reasons for the allergen exposures. Sicherer says the study shows the serious need to bolster education and vigilance. Parents must ensure that anyone taking care of their child practices proper precautions and has the know-how to deal with a reaction.
From the Fall 2012 edition of Allergic Living magazine.