Dr Hilary Jones Talks Food Allergies in Children

My roaming reporter from DaisychainBaby attended this event and here is her report back:

“The first day at school is a time fraught with anxieties for most parents – worrying about how they will cope (both child and parent!), will they fit in, will they get picked on and so on. Imagine how much worse those anxieties would be if you had a child with allergies, or suspected allergies. So far you have been able to protect them, cautiously keeping them away from anything that can cause a potential reaction but now they head off into a minefield of sharing foods, germs, dirt – a whole host of environmental factors that could make your child very ill if you have reason to believe or evidence that something triggers an allergic reaction.

A report released by the EAACI – European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology – showed that food allergies now affect an estimated 4-7% of school children and life-threatening allergic reactions have increased 7-fold in the last decade. Parents could be forgiven for thinking the outlook is quite bleak. All is not lost though! A couple of weeks ago, I popped along to a breakfast briefing hosted by Thermo Fisher Scientific at the South Bank centre to hear Dr Hilary Jones give a presentation about allergies, and how a simple blood test can now ascertain if your child actually has an allergy and what type it is. This then can lead to effective management of the allergy which is vital for children, parents and schools to ensure that the risk of any potential reaction is reduced.

A simple blood test can now help correctly diagnose food allergies

The biggest problem with food-triggered allergies is that so much of the time these are mistaken for a simple dislike of certain foods. I remember as a child having a very quick gag reflex for anything I didn’t like – which included most vegetables and sadly, because my parents didn’t make me eat them, there are still some that I have tried again and again but I can’t stomach (like leeks!) These days, especially with there being so many odd food fads and it being (in my honest opinion) almost “fashionable” to have a food allergy, I may well have been described as having an allergy to those vegetables when in actual fact, and as is still so often the case, I simply didn’t like it. The solution to this would have been to sit me there until I ate it and learned if not to like, at least to tolerate. I would have grown bored and given in. NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) in fact states that food allergies are often incorrectly self-diagnosed with only 25-40% of assumed food allergies clinically confirmed as true.

Imagine the impact that an incorrect self-diagnosis could have! As Dr Jones described: “Food allergies undermine quality of life especially for your children at school where they may be exempt from school dinners, left out of birthday celebrations or the simple pleasure of sharing snacks with friends in the playground” which is a life that no-one wants for their children unnecessarily.

The most common food allergens have been identified as cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds and cashews), fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and between them are responsible for around 90% of food allergies and we probably all as adults recognise the reaction which can develop in us if our bodies disagree with any of these such as IBS or Celiac Disease. The blood test for IgE (Immunoglobulin E) is available to your doctor and involves taking a sample of blood and sending it to a laboratory to check for the IgE proteins. One test can be used to check for many food allergens, which means suspected allergies can be either be pinpointed making them far easier to manage, or a confirmation that is simply intolerance which will pass in time (hopefully!)

We also heard about plans to improve the understanding amongst schools regarding effective management of pupils who suffer from allergies. Again, from a teacher’s perspective, meeting a new child at school and then learning from the parents that he/she is allergic to a particular type of foodstuff would certainly cause anxiety for that teacher who may need to administer fast and correct care in the case of a child going into anaphylactic shock. The Task Force on the allergic child at school (TACS), a European collaboration within the EACCI, has issued a position paper which documents a comprehensive approach – outlining a ‘best practise’ for managing allergies among schoolchildren. This would certainly put my Mum’s mind at rest – an infant teacher for 40 years, its at the point in her school where health and safety is so ridiculous she is barely even able to put a plaster on a cut, let alone administer life-saving treatment! Correct training and awareness is a must – after all, getting a diagnosis and being able to manage it can potentially save a life.”

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