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One in five kids with food allergies treated in emergency room

Less than half of kids with life-threatening allergies have epinephrine auto-injector prescription

Emergency department

One in five children with food allergies needed treatment in the emergency department in the past year for a life-threatening reaction to food, reports a new study from Northwestern Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

However, only 40 percent of children with food allergies had a current prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector, which is necessary for immediate treatment of a severe allergic reaction.

“It is essential that these children are prepared with an action plan and an epinephrine auto-injector,” said lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital. 

Other new findings in the study: 

  • Eight percent of U.S. children (about 5.6 million) have food allergies, with nearly 40 percent allergic to more than one food.
  • Sesame allergy prevalence and severity is comparable to that of other food allergens.

The study will be published Nov. 19 in Pediatrics. The most common food allergies in the U.S. included peanut – affecting about 1.6 million children – followed by allergy to milk (1.4 million), shellfish (1 million), tree nut (900,000), egg (600,000), fin fish (400,000), wheat (400,000) and soy (400,000). 

Sesame was the ninth most common food allergen, affecting about 150,000 children. 

“The sesame allergy prevalence and severity is comparable to that of other food allergens for which labeling is currently mandated, suggesting that sesame should be included under allergen labeling laws in the U.S., as is already the case in Canada, the European Union, Australia and Israel,” Gupta said. 

As in the previous prevalence study published by Gupta and colleagues in 2011, the current study reports that black children were more likely to have food allergies than white children. Black children also were more likely to have multiple food allergies than children of other racial or ethnic groups. 

5.6 millionThe number of U.S. children who now have food allergies

“More research is needed to understand the reason behind these racial differences in food allergy,” Gupta said. 

She also is the Mary Ann and J. Milburn Smith Research Professor for a Sr. Scientist in Child Health Research at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Lurie Children’s and director of the Science & Outcomes of Allergy & Asthma Research (SOAAR) Program based at Lurie Children’s and Feinberg. 

Funding for this study came from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (R21AI135702) of the National Institutes of Health, Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford UniversityAimmune Therapeutics and Denise and Dave Bunning.

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