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Jun 27, 2011

6 Million Children with Food Allergies in U.S.

New research published in Pediatrics suggests that about 8% of U.S. children are affected by food allergies.  The study surveyed almost 40,000 households in the U.S. with one or more children under 18 years old.  For those with food allergies, about 30% were found to have multiple food allergies while nearly 40% had a history of severe reactions.  The most common allergies were found to be peanut, milk, and shellfish.  

More than one type of immune mechanism is likely to be involved in food allergies, but the most well-known type entails the production of IgE antibodies in response to proteins of the allergenic food(s).  When IgE antibodies bound to mast cells and basophils (certain types of immune cells) come into contact with specific allergens located in the skin, digestive tract, and respiratory tract, inflammatory mediators like histamine are released.  These inflammatory mediators are responsible for a wide range of unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening symptoms, some of which include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, hives, itching, and swelling.    

Over the past 20 years, the prevalence of food allergies among all age groups has been on the rise.  Since allergic children often have parents who are allergic, we do know that genetics play a role.  However, there is good evidence of other important contributing factors such as nutrition, immune function, and environmental exposures to things like tobacco smoke, pesticides, and other pollutants.     

Dr. Shana McQueen