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July 16, 2024

The danger years for food allergies

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Associate Professor Jennifer Koplin from UQ’s Child Health Research Centre said a recent study found almost half of 10–14-year-olds with a food allergy had had an allergic reaction in the previous year and 1 in 10 of them experienced anaphylaxis.

‘Many Australian children have food allergies and as they grow, they’re at the highest risk of having a life-threatening allergic reaction in their teenage years,’ says Dr Koplin.

‘Much less is known about food allergy in this age group compared to in younger children.

No guidelines

‘There are currently no guidelines for managing food allergies during the time when adolescents are given more freedom to navigate social and other activities on their own.

‘These patients are also growing out of paediatric medical care and may even be growing out of their allergy without knowing it.’

Dr Koplin and Associate Professor Jane Peake from the Queensland Children’s Hospital will lead a research team which has been awarded almost $1.2 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council to trial improved testing and treatment options for adolescents with food allergies.

Dr Koplin says with the support of this funding, they will work with adolescents to find out more about how food allergy affects them in their day-to-day lives and test their food tolerances in a safe setting.

A food challenge

Participating patients will be offered an oral food challenge which is the opportunity to try the substance they’ve been avoiding because of an allergy diagnosis in a safe, clinical setting.

‘Many patients reach adolescence without having had a recent assessment of their allergy status and the challenge could show that they no longer need to worry about avoiding foods or situations,’ says Dr Koplin.

‘If they remain allergic, experiencing the effects in a safe environment can help them recognise and promptly treat a reaction.’

An accurate diagnosis

Dr Peake said the project aimed to ensure adolescents had an accurate diagnosis, as well as the tools to manage an ongoing allergy with confidence.

‘For adolescents, carrying the burden of allergies into adulthood can cause anxiety and require ongoing medical expenses for the rest of their lives,’ says Dr Peake.

‘It’s a crucial time to ensure adolescents have the best possible understanding of their food allergy and management long term.

‘Standard care has been to continue to avoid the food, but we have been surprised to find on doing an exit oral challenge prior to leaving paediatric care that many were no longer allergic.

‘Through our research, we want to ensure adolescents have an accurate diagnosis, as well as the tools to manage their allergy with confidence, which is important for their mental health, quality of life and overall health outcomes.’

The study includes experts from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Perth Children’s Hospital, QUT and the University of Melbourne.

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