Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - New Information on Food Allergies

Anyone who has a child in elementary school knows about food allergies, which have been increasing in young children at an alarming rate.  Unfortunately, some of the most common allergens: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish - are also many of the foods low-income families depend on.  A 2007 study of risk factors for food allergy patients found that low-income food allergy patients had the highest risk for accidental exposures.

A more recent report by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggests that healthcare providers need to be better educated about food allergies, since the only current effective treatment is allergen avoidance or crisis management of severe symptoms - difficult at best for families with resources, nearly impossible for vulnerable families.  The NIAID points out that it is crucial to have an accurate diagnosis: their research shows that food allergies tend to be over-reported.

There are several methods of testing for food allergies, but the NIAID considers the double-blind food challenge or oral challenge to be a more accurate predictor of the seriousness of a particular allergy than other tests.  In a food challenge, a patient is given a series of foods to eat, masked in some way (in a best case, the foods are prepared by someone other than the administering doctor.)  In this way, a patient can be treated immediately if they have a life-threatening reaction, and can be assured of exactly what type of reaction they have to exactly which foods.  Accurate testing and education on a safe diet can allow food allergy patients better access to a more varied, and hopefully more healthful, diet.

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