Fall 2017 Food Allergy Research Roundup
This summer several new research studies related to food allergies were published, including a documented connection between food allergies and childhood anxiety, good news for those with nut allergies, and bad news overall in the prevalence of food allergies and severe reactions.
Diagnosing Allergies by Oral Food Challenge is Safe
Oral food challenges can be scary, especially when there is a potential for a severe reaction, but a recent study found that they are safe and a good way to diagnose food allergies. An oral food challenge, or OFC, should only be conducted by a medical professional and involves giving a particular food, slowly and in increasingly larger quantities, to monitor for signs of an adverse reaction.
According to a new study by allergists, only two percent of patients going through an OFC will experience anaphylaxis. The researchers analyzed thousands of OFCs to come to the conclusion that the benefits of this diagnostic tool outweigh the risks. They even go so far as to say that OFCs improve quality of life. Those who get a negative result are able to go back to eating foods they had been cutting out, and those with positive results finally know what they need to avoid eating.
Too Many People Unnecessarily Avoiding Nuts and Peanuts
Another recent study of food allergies may also back up the usefulness of OFCs. Published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the study found that 50 percent of patients who believed they had a nut allergy and were avoiding nuts and peanuts could actually pass an OFC. One reason is that people diagnosed with a peanut allergy or an allergy to one type of nut assume they need to give up all nuts.
The results of the study show that abstaining from all nuts is not necessary. Most people who have a documented allergy to one type of nut pass OFCs for others. Because there are many nutritional benefits of nuts, it is important to find out which nuts can be eaten and which should be avoided.
Food Allergies Increased 400 Percent in Last Decade
The most recent data on the prevalence of food allergies show that they are skyrocketing. According to FAIR Health, which collects information about privately billed health insurance claims, claims that document severe reactions to food allergens went up by almost 400 percent from 2007 to 2016. The study looked at all claims for diagnoses of anaphylaxis caused by foods.
The most common culprit according to the data was the peanut, followed by tree nuts, eggs, shellfish and dairy. Claims that indicated a reaction occurred as a result of “other specific foods” likely indicates that there is now better documentation of which foods cause reactions. Another interesting finding from the analysis was that more severe reactions occurred in rural than urban areas.
Food Allergies Linked to Childhood Anxiety
In a study from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, researchers found that children with food allergies were at a much greater risk of developing anxiety but not depression. The study included 80 children between the ages of four and 12. The researchers controlled for asthma, which is already known to be associated with anxiety.
They found that 57 percent of the children were experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder. This was more than in a control group. Symptoms of depression, on the other hand, did not vary significantly between the allergic children and the control. In particular, the children experienced more social anxiety and fears over being rejected or embarrassed in front of peers.