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Untreated Food Allergies More Likely in Poor, Minority Kids

FRIDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthDay News) -- It is vital that food allergies be recognized, diagnosed and treated, but some children are falling through the cracks, according to a new study.

Clinicians must teach parents and caregivers to recognize non-visual symptoms of severe allergic reactions, and children should receive allergy testing so their condition can be managed properly, the researchers said.

"Every child with a food allergy should be diagnosed by a physician, have access to life-saving medication such as an epinephrine autoinjector and receive confirmation of the disease through diagnostic testing," study lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said in a university news release. "Not all children are receiving this kind of care."

The researchers conducted an online survey of U.S. households with children who had symptoms of mild to severe food allergies.

The survey found 70 percent of the children received a physician's diagnosis for their food allergy. However, 32 percent of these kids did not receive diagnostic testing, such as a blood, skin or oral food challenge test.

Minority children and kids from low-income families were more likely to have untreated food allergies, the study found.

Of the children who received diagnostic testing, 46 percent had a skin test and 39 percent had a blood test. Just one in five of those surveyed reported that their child received an oral food challenge test, which is considered the gold standard for diagnosing food allergy.

"An oral food challenge might be scary for parents because their child is being fed the allergenic food," said Gupta, who also is a physician at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. "Some physicians think the risks outweigh the benefits, but it is the best tool we have to diagnose a food allergy."

In the survey, 80 percent of anaphylactic reactions to common triggers such as eggs, finfish, milk, peanuts, sesame, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat led to hives, puffy eyes or lips, and eczema. During severe reactions, 40 percent of cases involved hives and 34 percent involved puffy eyes and lips.

Some children with food allergies, however, will not develop obvious or visual symptoms, the researchers pointed out.

"Not all food allergy reactions start with swelling or a rash," Gupta said. "If you suspect your child has eaten something they're allergic to and you don't see a visible sign of a reaction, you need to think about what might be going on internally."

Children who may be having an allergic reaction to food should be asked if they are experiencing tightness in their throat, trouble breathing or stomach pain, the authors advised. Children having an allergic reaction also may feel dizzy or faint.

"This study shows why it's vital that children receive an accurate diagnosis, and that parents and other caregivers know the signs of a severe reaction and are equipped to respond immediately," Mary Jane Marchisotto, executive director of the Food Allergy Initiative, which provided financial support for the study, said in the news release.

The study was published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

More information

Families can visit the Food Allergy Initiative to learn more about food allergies.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Sept. 13, 2012

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