food allergies

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What New Peanut Study Means For Kids With Food Allergies — And What It Doesn’t

In this undated photo provided by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dr. Andrew Clark of Cambridge University, right, performs a skin prick test, which is used to diagnose food allergies, on Lena Barden, 12, during clinical trials at Addenbrooke's Hospital Clinical Research Facility, Cambridge, England. An experimental therapy in Britain that fed children with peanut allergies small amounts of peanut flour has helped more than 80 percent of them eat a handful of the previously worrisome nuts safely. (Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust/AP)

In this photo provided by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dr. Andrew Clark of Cambridge University, right, performs a skin prick test, which is used to diagnose food allergies, on Lena Barden, 12, during clinical trials at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Clinical Research Facility, Cambridge, England. (Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust/AP)

By Richard Knox

Erin Brazil is frustrated. She’d hardly had time to digest the peanut allergy study that got heavy media coverage this week when, she says, she got “inundated by calls and emails and Facebook posts saying ‘There’s a cure, there’s a cure!’ ”

Brazil is a Boston food-allergy activist whose 4-year-old son Gabriel is severely allergic to peanuts and other foods. So she knows better than anyone that the new study, while a landmark in the field, represents no cure. “It doesn’t do anything for Gabriel,” she says.

What it does mean is that many future children will be able to avoid a life of worry about whether the merest trace of peanut protein — even an invisible smear from a candy bar left by another child on playground equipment — could send them to the emergency room gasping for breath.

I can finally look a mother in the eye and give her some advice that I feel confident in.

– Dr. Hugh Sampson

And the new study means that the recommendations parents have been given over the past 15 years — to withhold peanuts until the age of 3 in children deemed at risk — “were exactly wrong,” says Dr. Wayne Shreffler, director of the Food Allergy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“I strongly suspect they made things worse,” Streffler adds, because at-risk children who were deprived of peanut exposure in food during infancy were more likely to suffer a lifelong allergy from later exposure to, say, house dust. It’s almost impossible to avoid it.

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics withdrew its recommendation to withhold peanuts until age 3, but until now there’s been no solid evidence in favor of deliberately feeding peanuts to at-risk kids. That’s what the new study strongly suggests parents should do — strictly under the supervision of their pediatricians. That flip-flop is widely expected to be enshrined in the next set of official guidelines.

It’s a big change, but not only does it offer nothing to children like Gabriel who already have peanut allergy, it provides no answer to the really big question: Just why have food allergies soared lately, more than quadrupling among the current generation of American children?

Even though the study doesn’t solve that mystery, allergy experts say it’s certain to accelerate research already under way to unravel the causes and devise treatments, if not outright cures.

Six million U.S. children currently have food allergies, one out of every 13 kids, according to the largest recent study. Peanut allergy is the most common, and the most troublesome — not only because it’s so hard to avoid exposure, but because peanut allergy is usually permanent, unlike those involving other foods. And peanut allergies are more likely to be fatal.

That explains why allergists are so enthusiastic about the new study. Continue reading

A Third Of Kids With Food Allergies Bullied: What Grown-Ups Can Do

(H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons)

(H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons)

The journal “Pediatrics” reports today that nearly one third of children with food allergies are bullied for it. From the press release:

Researchers surveyed 251 parent and child pairs to see if they have experienced bullying related to their food allergies. The results show that 31.5 percent of these children report being bullied, and threats frequently involved food. Children who report being bullied, and their parents, had higher stress levels and lower quality of life. Of those surveyed, approximately half the parents reported being aware of bullying.

The study confirms earlier findings that kids — and adults — can be real jerks about allergies. We posted a similar study in 2010 reporting that “approximately 35 percent of children with food allergies over age five have experienced bullying, teasing, or harassment as a result of their allergies. Of those, the study says, 86 percent experienced repeated episodes, with classmates being the most common perpetrators. But beyond that, more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff, according to the findings published in the medical journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.”

I spoke today with Dr. Mark Schuster of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, co-author of an accompanying editorial in Pediatrics whose title begins, “Did the Ugly Duckling Have PTSD?” Our conversation, lightly edited:

You discuss the important role that parents and other adults can play in helping to stop bullying. How exactly should we talk to our kids who don’t have allergies about the kids who do?

The first thing is for parents to take allergies seriously. It’s very easy for parents to just react with annoyance that they can’t send their kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich. It’s understandable why parents feel constrained by restrictions due to allergies, but if their child doesn’t have an allergy they often don’t understand just how serious it can be. Some kids really can go into anaphylactic shock from touching someone else’s peanut butter cookie and die at school.

So it’s important for parents of kids who do not have allergies to be respectful of the seriousness of a child who does have an allergy. A parent might try asking a child without an allergy: “What is your favorite food? How would it feel if you could never eat that food ever again? And if you did eat that food, it would kill you?” Continue reading

Food Allergies? New Personalized Testing Device Detects Peanuts, Gluten In A Pinch

I am banned from bringing most snacks to my daughter’s first grade classroom because so many kids have food allergies — some life-threatening. So I can envision this nifty new gadget — a personalized food allergy testing device that runs on a cellphone — making its way into cubbies around the nation in the not-too-distant future.

Within one second, researchers report online in the cool sounding journal Lab On A Chip, the device can analyze a food sample and detect and quantify the allergen contamination in food products, including peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten and hazelnuts. In the published report, researchers said they successfully detected and accurately quantified peanut levels in commercially available cookies.

The device, called the iTube, is an attachment that “uses the cell phone’s built-in camera, along with an accompanying smart-phone application that runs a test with the same high level of sensitivity a laboratory would,” researchers say.

(Photo: UCLA)

(Photo: UCLA)

More from the UCLA news release:

To test for allergens, food samples are initially ground up and mixed in a test tube with hot water and an extraction solvent; this mixture is allowed to set for several minutes. Then, following a step-by-step procedure, the prepared sample is mixed with a series of other reactive testing liquids. The entire preparation takes roughly 20 minutes. When the sample is ready, it is measured optically for allergen concentration through the iTube platform, using the cell phone’s camera and a smart application running on the phone.

The kit digitally converts raw images from the cell-phone camera into concentration measurements detected in the food samples. And beyond just a “yes” or “no” answer as to whether allergens are present, the test can also quantify how much of an allergen is in a sample, in parts per million… Continue reading

The Peanut Allergy That Wasn’t

(Biel’s ® Gabriel Machado/flickr)

This striking post by Amy Lischko about her son discovering — at age 15 — that his lifelong peanut “allergy” was in fact simply a misdiagnosis, got me thinking.

Was this an actual misdiagnosis or did her son just “grow out” of the allergy? How many other kids are branded as allergic to peanuts or tree nuts (like my daughter) and go through their childhoods toting Epi-pens on every trip and to every classroom only to learn later that they’re not allergic after all? And is the concept of “outgrowing allergies” masking what was never really an allergy in the first place? Obviously, real allergies are, indeed, real, potentially life-threatening and often extremely scary. But for those with seemingly milder cases (my daughter has never had another reaction to cashews after the first one at 18 months and for the past 6 years has eaten countless items processed “in a facility with” with all types of tree nuts) is there widespread misdiagnosing going on here? I’d love informed comments on this.

In the meantime, here’s Amy’s story posted on HealthCare Savvy:

My son was diagnosed at age one as having life threatening allergies to peanuts. He was given skin tests after what appeared to be a reaction to peanut butter. The tests showed he was allergic to everything. So, we spent the next 14 years religiously keeping him away from all nuts. Being an underutilizer, I never took my son back for further testing as given his history of asthma, it was unlikely he would outgrow this allergy. And, he never had another reaction.

This summer (at age 15) my son went on a canoeing trip in the adirondacks…..miles away from any medical facility. To my shock, it was here that He decided he had had enough of his “special diet” and gave himself a “food challenge” by eating two peanuts. What happened? Nothing. Continue reading

Kids With Food Allergies Are Often Victims Of Bullying, Research Finds

Bullies prey on kids with food allergies

In the first-of-its-kind study, researchers have pinpointed a troubling social trend: children who suffer from food allergies are very often suffering at the hands of school bullies as well. But it gets worse: not only are these kids teased and harassed by other classmates, but they are also being taunted by teachers who perhaps don’t fully understand their plight.

What is going on here?

Doctors at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York report that approximately 35 percent of children with food allergies over age five have experienced bullying, teasing, or harassment as a result of their allergies. Of those, the study says, 86 percent experienced repeated episodes, with classmates being the most common perpetrators. But beyond that, more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff, according to the findings published in the medical journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Scott Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai and the study’s lead author, suggests that much of the bullying here is due to ignorance about what food allergies are all about. “It’s a situation that’s mysterious to the outside person,” Dr. Sicherer said in an interview. “The kid thinks, ‘I can eat everything,’ but that kid over there is always worried and anxious about eating — that makes him different and it’s that difference that might lead the first kid to test the waters with teasing and harassment.”

The adult taunts are perhaps more subtle. Dr. Sicherer says that clueless teachers might inadvertently be contributing to the problem. “Maybe the teacher says, ‘We were going to have a birthday party today with cake, but since Johnny here can’t eat it, we’re having apples instead.'”

Perhaps most disturbing is that in several reported cases of bullying, the specific allergen was used by the bully against his victim. Indeed, Dr. Sicherer says he’s seen bullied patients who say another kid smeared peanut butter on the water fountain, making it unusable for the allergic child. “From these reports,” researchers write, “it is clear that bullying, teasing, and harassment may pose a concern to food-allergic patients and their parents from a psychological and possibly a physical standpoint.”