If you've ever negotiated the menu for a child's birthday party, you already know that food allergies are increasingly more common—so-and-so can't have PB&J, so-and-so is allergic to dairy—or eggs. But it might shock you to know just how much the rate of food allergies in children have risen in the past few years.
Currently, it's estimated that 1 in 13 children had a food allergy, and nearly 40 percent of those with allergies had severe reactions, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics. Another survey found that in 2008, 1 in 70 children was allergic to peanuts, compared with 1 in 250 just a decade earlier. And in a more recent survey in Massachusetts, where public schools are permitted to administer epinephrine in case of emergency, 25 percent of students who had to be given the drug for an allergic reaction didn't even know they had an allergy, reports the New York Times.
What's going on? BabyZone asked Dr. Michael Pistiner, MD, a pediatric allergist at Children's Hospital Boston and medical advisor for KidsWithFoodAllergies.org, to explain.
"'Why do kids develop food allergies?' is THE question those of us in the pediatric allergy community are working to answer," says Dr. Pistiner. "And from what we've been able to determine, we know that there are many potential causes, including things like less exposure to germs and bacteria and overuse of antibiotics, more cases of vitamin D deficiency, and timing of introduction of solid foods."
However, what is not yet known is how these factors combine with underlying genetic and environmental triggers to make one child develop a food allergy and another child to remain allergy-free.
"There are some families with a strong history of food allergies, and you see children develop them, too. But there also lots of babies and toddlers out there developing allergies with no previous family history. When we ask, "Why?" there is just no readily available answer yet."
Because of all these unknowns, Dr. Pistiner says the better question may be, "How do we help our child cope?"
"When parents find out their child has a food allergy, work to educate and empower yourselves—and your child—about how to cope positively with a food allergy," he advises. This includes making an allergy action plan with the help of your pediatrician and working with your daycare provider to make sure your child's needs can be met on a day-to-day basis—and in case of emergency.
"Rather than look back, look forward," advises Dr. Pistiner.