Study to Nail Food Allergy Triggers

CHICAGO: For 5-year-old Sean Batson, even a grandmother’s kiss is to be feared.
“My mother was wearing lipstick, and when she kissed Sean’s cheek, it broke out in hives,” said his mother, Jennifer Batson.

At his first birthday party, Sean had a severe allergic reaction — hives, swollen eyes, vomiting and wheezing — to his first nibble of cake. And when a toddler with an ice cream cone touched Sean’s arm with sticky hands during a play date, the arm erupted in hives.

The daily struggle of living with Sean’s allergies to nearly unavoidable foods and food products — soy, eggs and milk, traces of which can turn up even in nonfoods like lipstick — prompted Jennifer and her husband, Tim, to participate in a project that scientists are calling the most comprehensive food allergy study to date.

The international study, led by Xiaobin Wang and Jacqueline Pongracic of Children’s Memorial Hospital here, is searching for causes of food allergy by looking at hundreds of families in Boston, Chicago and Anhui Province in China.

Wang says the study’s multicenter design allows researchers to look at startling variations in the prevalence and types of food allergies across diverse populations and regions.

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In China, for example, skin-prick testing found that large percentages of one rural population were sensitive to shellfish (16.7%) and peanuts (12.3%). Yet actual food allergies in that population, as diagnosed by physicians, were all but unheard of: less than 1%.

In the US, by contrast, 12 million people (4%of the population) suffer from food allergies, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a nonprofit information and advocacy group.

“We found something unexpected,” said Wang, director of the Smith Child Health Research Program at Children’s Memorial. “The apparent dissociation between high allergic sensitization and low allergic disease in this Chinese population is not seen in our two US study populations.

Although it is possible to be allergic to any food, eight foods account for 90% of all reactions — milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, and tree nuts like cashews and almonds. Up to 200 deaths each year are attributed to the most severe reaction, food-induced anaphylaxis.

Some experts suggest that children in a culture smitten with antibacterial detergents and hand sanitizers are exposed to fewer germs, depriving the immune system of its germ-fighting job and leading it to misidentify certain foods as foreign.

Sources: The Times Of India

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