Tackling the allergy epidemic

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Peanut allergy
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Allergic disease already affects one in five Australians, but experts warn this could rise by 70% to one in four by 2050 unless prevention strategies are developed now.

In response to the dramatic rise in allergies and public health concern, researchers and clinicians from across Australia have developed a collaborative research centre to tackle the growing allergy epidemic.

The Centre for Research Excellence in Paediatric Food Allergy and Food-related Immune Disorders, which is the only one of its kind in the world, will be officially launched this week, during World Allergy Awareness Week.

An alliance of leading researchers and centres in Australia will work together to focus on prevention. The team hope to develop strategies to prevent food allergy developing, prevent adverse events in children with a food allergy and to prevent food allergy progressing to asthma.

Research by Murdoch Childrens, the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Australia has shown that food allergy and eczema may be the gateway disease. Infants with a food allergy are five times more likely to develop respiratory allergic diseases later in life.

Australia is leading the world in food allergy research. Already research from Murdoch Childrens and the University of Melbourne has found;

  • The prevalence of food allergy in infants is 10%, which was much higher than researchers anticipated.
  • Demonstrated that early introduction of egg is safe and may even protect against the development of egg allergy – these results have underpinned the recently revised infant feeding guidelines.
  • Found that pets, especially dogs, and having siblings may be protective factors for the development of food allergy.
  • Described a novel two step testing approach to improve the precision of peanut allergy testing which will reduce the burden on overwhelmed allergy services.
  • Discovered that Vitamin D status is integrally linked to the development of infantile food allergy.

Over the last ten years, there has been a five-fold increase in hospital admissions for life-threatening anaphylaxis. During the same period clinical referral for life-threatening peanut allergy of all ages has doubled in Australia. These changes are most pronounced in children less than five years, suggesting a causal role for early life determinants. These findings are reflected in unprecedented waiting lists for specialist allergists with most States of Australia reporting waiting lists in excess of 12 months.

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In addition, there has been emerging concern over food immune disorders which also appear to be increasing in incidence. Of particular concern is coeliac disease, necessitating a gluten free diet, and Eosinophilic Esophagitis, where researchers say consensus management guidelines are urgently required.

The Centre has been funded by the National Health & Medical Research Council, and will provide evidence based guidelines that will inform public health policy and the clinical care of patients. These guidelines will support doctors, schools and community groups in the care of children with a food allergy.

Top five allergy myths – busted by research

  • Using soy formulas or drinking soy milk causes peanut allergy.
  • Delivery by caesarean section increases your risk of food allergy.
  • Avoiding allergenic foods during pregnancy and breastfeeding prevents food allergy.
  • Delaying the introduction of allergenic foods for infants prevents food allergy.
  • Research provides evidence that partially hydrolysis formula might not be protective against allergic disease

Source: Murdoch Childrens Research Institute 

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Date Created: April 20, 2013 Date Modified: May 3, 2013