18 March 2011
The rate of food allergies in Australian babies now tops 10 per cent and may herald a new "allergy epidemic", according to experts.
Researchers from Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne showed that more than 10 per cent of a group of nearly 3000 babies aged around 12 months had IgE-mediated food allergy. (IgE is a type of antibody involved in allergic reactions.)
Allergies to peanuts, raw egg, sesame, shellfish and cow’s milk were determined by skin prick testing, the researchers reported. Allergies were confirmed by an oral food challenge (eating a small amount of the food under supervision) (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2011; 127: 668-76.e2).
Challenge-proven peanut allergy was found in 3 per cent of the babies, raw egg allergy in 9 per cent and sesame allergy in 0.8 per cent.
Around 6 per cent of the children were sensitised to cow’s milk and 0.9 per cent to shellfish, but these were not confirmed by oral food challenge.
Study author Associate Professor Katie Allen, a paediatric allergist at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, said her team was "astounded" at the findings.
"We predicted it could be as low as 1 per cent", she said.
"In fact, we thought maybe there was an over-diagnosis of food allergy in the community."
The children will be followed up to see whether they develop other atopic (allergy-related) diseases, such as asthma and allergic rhinitis.
"What we are concerned about is [whether] this ... is just transient food allergy in early infancy, or does it herald the onset of a second, more prolonged and troublesome epidemic?" she said.
Professor Allen said the same study showed the introduction of egg to a child’s diet at around 6 months of age was safe and potentially protective.
"[This] evidence ... suggests there are factors we can modify that will be able to prevent this epidemic becoming more troublesome to the community", she said.
Last Reviewed: 18 March 2011