Despite the efforts of parents and caretakers to protect their young children, food allergies can elicit potentially life-threatening allergic reactions, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics and conducted for the Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR).
The study looked at 512 infants, 3 to 15 months of age, who were diagnosed with or at risk for a milk or egg allergy, CBS News reported. "Over a three-year follow-up period, 269 of the children suffered an allergic reaction to food, with some children experiencing multiple allergic episodes. A closer look found 42 percent of reactions were triggered by milk, 21 percent were caused by eggs and almost 8 percent were tied to peanuts."
The new research "focused on children who have allergies to milk and egg and are 'being observed for the development of peanut allergy.' Together, these represent three of the eight most common food allergens (along with fish, soy, wheat, shellfish and tree nuts)," the Huffington Post reported. The study found that "just over 11 percent of 834 recorded reactions resulted from intentional exposure to milk, egg or peanut." The reasons for these intentional exposures remain unknown.
The practice “may reflect parental testing for resolution of allergy,” the study says, adding, “In some cases, reactions occurred to a food that was given in a larger amount than before.”
The message of the new study is one Claire McCarthy, pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, cannot agree with more.
What can parents do? "Vigilance is key," McCarthy said on Boston.com, a regional website specific to the Boston area, "and harder than people realize. To prevent a child from eating something they are allergic to, parents have to be fanatic label readers. I really do mean fanatic."
At first, food allergy symptoms can be subtle, McCarthy advises. Check for constipation, diarrhea, vomiting or a bit of blood in the stool. A mild itch to the throat or a rash could signal worse future reactions.
"Medications are crucial," McCarthy said, adding that diphenhydramine, better known as Benadryl, and epinephrine should always be at hand in case of emergency. If ever in question, "give the Epipen," she stresses. "It's always better to be safe than sorry."
"This may seem overwhelming, and at the beginning it can be. But the more you learn, the easier it gets."
Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News.