An allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts to a substance (allergen) in the environment which is usually harmless. The most common triggers are egg, cow’s milk, peanut, tree nuts, seafood, sesame, soy, fish and wheat. An allergic reaction is when someone develops symptoms following exposure to an allergen, such as hives, swelling of the lips, eyes or face, vomiting or wheeze. Allergic reactions range from mild to severe. Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction.
How common is food allergy amongst Children?
Food allergy occurs in around 1 in 10 children below 5 years of age. The rate of food allergy in children has exploded over the last 30 years – from almost non-existence prior to the 1980s to >10% of infants tested in a Melbourne-based study having a verifiable food allergy in 20111. Studies have shown that food allergy affects 10% of children up to 1 year of age; between 4-8% of children aged up to 5 years of age and approximately 2% of adults.
Hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) have doubled over the last decade in Australia, USA and UK. In Australia, admissions for anaphylaxis due to food allergy in children aged 0 to 4 years are even higher, having increased five-fold over the same period. Our after hours GPs regularly see patients with symptoms of food allergy in Perth, Bunbury & Busselton.
Allergy Symptoms in Children
Mild to moderate symptoms of food allergy include:
- Swelling of face, lips and/or eyes
- Hives or welts on the skin
- Abdominal pain, vomiting
Signs of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to foods include:
- Difficult/noisy breathing
- Swelling of tongue
- Swelling/tightness in throat
- Difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
- Wheeze or persistent cough
- Persistent dizziness and/or collapse
- Pale and floppy (in young children)
Common Allergy triggers in Children
- Outdoors: tree pollen, plant pollen, insect bites or stings
- Indoors: pet or animal hair or fur, dust mites, mold
- Irritants: cigarette smoke, perfume, car exhaust
- Foods: peanuts, eggs, milk and milk products
Food allergy can sometimes be dangerous
Although Mild, moderate and even severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to foods are common in Australia and New Zealand. However, deaths from anaphylaxis due to food allergy are rare in Australia and New Zealand. Most deaths can be prevented by careful allergen avoidance measures and immediate administration of an adrenaline autoinjector. The most common foods causing life-threatening anaphylaxis are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk and egg. Symptoms of anaphylaxis affect our breathing and/or our heart.
Not all adverse reactions to foods are due to allergy
Our after hours GPs will normally ask a series of questions that may help to narrow down the list of likely causes such as foods or medicines consumed that day, or exposure to stinging insects. This approach will also help to exclude conditions that can sometimes be confused with food allergy and anaphylaxis.
Skin prick allergy tests or allergy blood tests can also help to confirm or exclude potential triggers. Our home doctors can advise you on the tests and recommend your GP for a skin allergy test where required.
1300 Dr To Me – After Hours Home Doctor provides urgent home GP visits to our local community in Perth, Bunbury, & Busselton. Should you or your family members require an urgent visit, please dial 1300 378 663 to request a home visiting doctor.
For more information and better awareness on specific food allergies, please visit http://www.foodallergytraining.org.au/
Disclaimer: 1300 Dr To Me provides free health information blogs for the community to increase awareness on health & medical topics. The information in this article is educative and does not constitute diagnosis. Please consult a doctor, or request an urgent after hours GP visit should you or your children experience allergic symptoms.