Why Are Food Allergies So Common Now?
Little 3-year-old Lina Stanton knows she can’t have eggs. “It is beyond adorable when Lina asks me if I will make pancakes, and if I will make them with egg replacer,” her mom, Britta Stanton, said.
Lina and her brother (she has three siblings total) are allergic to nuts and eggs. It’s taken some coaching, but now the two Stanton kids with allergies can speak up for themselves when asking about the ingredients in food.
“We originally suspected our third child had food allergies when he would get a little sick to his stomach and a rash on his face when he had something with nuts in it,” Stanton said. “Now my younger two of my four children have food allergies.”
“We let the other children eat nuts and eggs in the household,” Stanton went on to explain. “The younger two children know very clearly what they are allergic to, where their Epipens are in their backpacks and at the house, and why they take Benadryl sometimes.”
Even little Lina knows to ask if a dessert or treat has eggs in it, she added. “Even if I know what does or doesn’t have an allergen in it, I always let the kids ask so they are comfortable taking care of themselves when I’m not there.”
The two Stanton children are among the 15 million Americans the Food Allergy and Research & Education organization reports have been diagnosed with food allergies. The Centers for Disease Control said that food allergies affect four in every 100 children — or enough for at least one per classroom. Between 1997 and 2007, the CDC said that food allergies among children increased 18 percent.
So if it seems like you know more people with a food allergy than you did before, you’re probably right.
“There are some indications that the prevalence of food allergy may be increasing in the United States and in other countries,” the CDC said.
But why are food allergies becoming more prevalent?
“There are many reasons why food allergies are on the rise,” said Hari Reddy, D.O., who is an allergist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Allen. “Some of the leading theories include that we have become ‘too hygienic of a society’ and our immune systems are going to a more allergic state. Another reason is genetics may be leading to increased allergies.
“Finally, it may also be secondary to the types of foods we eat and when we are introducing them to children.”
In an article published by the European Molecular Biology Organization, scientists said that a more exotic or global diet than was experienced in years’ past may also be coming into play.
“In this era of globalization, it is not only populations that migrate but also foods, as people adopt foreign diets and import exotic products,” the article said, adding that scientists are now looking at the rise in new food allergies in other countries as they adopt foreign diets or foods.
Overall, there are eight common allergens that crop up, and the main causes of food allergies are tree nuts, peanuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish,” he said.
If your family has a history of food allergies, should you avoid giving a small child those foods?
“Food allergies are determined by both genetics and exposure,” Reddy said. “For example, not all children who are allergic to peanuts have a family history of peanut allergy. Current studies are pointing to possibly giving peanuts to children at a young age who are showing signs of having other allergic diseases (asthma, eczema or hay fever).”
“These children when exposed to peanuts at an earlier age tended to not ultimately have peanut allergies,” he continued. “However, there are no current formal guidelines for this for allergists. If a patient has a history of food allergies, the current best treatment is strict avoidance of the food after being diagnosed by food testing.”
And while we are most familiar with the scarier symptoms like anaphylaxis, the symptoms of a food allergy can vary.
“Not all food allergic reactions involve anaphylaxis. Some symptoms may be mild such as hives, eczema, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain,” Reddy said.
“However, these symptoms may be a signal for more severe symptoms that may follow. The more severe symptoms to look for in an allergic reaction include swelling of the lips or tongue, problems swallowing, breathing problems, fainting, loss of consciousness,” he continued. “The severe symptoms with or without the mild symptoms may be leading to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.”
With help from an allergist, those with some food allergies may find that they outgrow some of their allergies.
“Most food allergies are outgrown — for instance milk, egg, soy or wheat,” Reddy said. “However, some foods are not as easily outgrown and many times the person will be allergic their entire life. The allergic foods that tend to persist include peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.”
Do you suspect a food allergy or need help finding a caring allergist to diagnose or come up with a treatment plan? Check out Texas Health Resources’ physician finder to locate an allergist in your area.
Are you trying to live a gluten-free lifestyle, but having a hard time finding restaurants that cater to your needs? Here are a few gluten-friendly spots in Dallas to try the next time you’re out on the town!