Food allergies in children are on the rise—and we’re finding that parents need more resources. Nearly 10% percent of the population has some type of food allergy, a rise of over 10 times from 35 years ago! And emergency room visits associated with acute allergies have doubled from 2010 to 2016.
Most food allergies stem from eight common foods: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. This list can vary across cultures, but generally includes a mix of similar items. What all of these foods have in common is proteins that are able to survive breakdown in the stomach and can, therefore, enter the blood stream more or less intact. From there, the science gets complicated. But to sum it up: The child’s immune system will actually attack the food particles and cause a cascade of reactions.
So why have allergies increased so much? And what can we do to help our children?
As it turns out, our tendency to stay indoors may be one of the culprits. A lack of getting dirty mixed with a decrease of vitamin D in children can account for a confused immune system that may overreact to food particles because of less “practice” with actual dirt.
Additionally, scientists have proven that 80% of food allergy risk is inherited. This may be due to both genetics and the importance of the microbiome in maintaining a healthy immune system. When a baby is born vaginally, it passes through the mother’s birth canal and acquires a “seed” of her microbiome that later flourishes in the baby’s tiny intestines. Babies is born via caesarean section never have the chance to acquire this good bacterium. Breastfeeding, however, is one way that a mother can help to restore her baby’s gut flora even after a c-section birth.
Alteration of the human microbiome with antimicrobial compounds is also of increasing concern. The use—sometimes, overuse—of antibiotics and antibacterial hand soaps clears away the good bacteria that can protect our immune system from the threat of invasion. Many times, we do need the help of these medicines and compounds, but overuse needs to be monitored.
So what’s a parent supposed to do to protect their children from this increasing threat? Some things to try would be increasing your child’s intake of fiber to feed beneficial gut flora; decreasing the use of antimicrobial compounds within your home unless completely necessary; and getting outside more often. The truth is that we can do everything right and still have to tackle food allergies in our own homes. The good news is that new treatment options, many of which aim to make patients less sensitive to allergens in the first place, are becoming more available.
If you’re concerned your child has an allergy, please consult your pediatrician. If you think that your child is having a life-threatening reaction to an allergen, find medical help immediately. We’re ready to help you find answers and treatment options.