Although allergies don’t last forever for some children, it can be difficult to tell when a child has aged out of an allergy, and then whether the previously forbidden foods should be brought back in to their diets or not. According to Dr Robert Wood, director of paediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre, and a prolific allergy researcher, 80% of children will lose their sensitivity to milk, egg, wheat and soy allergies by adulthood. Life-threatening peanut and treenut allergies can also recede: over time 20% of children will lose their sensitivity to peanuts, and 10% to tree nuts. Some children will also outgrow hayfever, usually around puberty.
Dr Allan Stillerman, a Minneapolis allergy and asthma specialist says that although allergy rates continue to rise, many are misdiagnosed. Although a quarter of Americans believe they suffer from allergies to food, only about 4 percent of adults and of the 1-2 age range, only 6-8%.
It remains unknown why children can overcome sensitivity to certain foods. Treatment generally involves avoidance, but paradoxically treatment can also involve desensitisation using tiny amounts of an allergen to encourage tolerance. Immunotherapy gradually retrains the immune system to disregard or tolerate the allergens that previously caused reactions, but this is currently mainly only used for environmental allergies.
If a child has outgrown allergy to a certain food, feeding them the previous food allergen may help to prevent a recurrence of allergic reaction. In Dr Wood’s research, children who had outgrown peanut allergy, who subsequently ate penut products at least once a month had a lower risk of recurrence than those who didn’t. But Wood recommends that children who have outgrown peanut allergy continue to carry round epinephrine injections for at least a year just in case.
Sources: Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and The Star Tribune
First published in May 2011
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