As any parent of a child with food allergies can attest, every meal could be a potential mine field of hidden ingredients that could result in anything from a sick child to worse, a trip to the emergency room. For these parents, there's hope yet: A new study revealed kids can outgrow their food allergies, thanks to oral food challenge tests.
In a study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology researchers examined more than 6,300 oral food challenge test results. Approximately 84 percent of those results came from children under the age or 18. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, as many as 1 in 13 children under the age of 18 have food allergies in the United States. The results are encouraging: Of those retested for food allergies, 86 percent of people with food allergies passed their oral challenge tests with no allergic reaction whatsoever. 14 percent of those who did have a reaction upon retesting only required an over-the-counter antihistamine like Benedryl to treat their reaction. The implications of this research are huge.
The issue of food allergies in children can be complex, and not just from a food consumption standpoint: just getting a correct food allergy diagnosis can sometimes be problematic for young patients. Bruce J. Lanser, a pediatric allergist and immunologist, told NPR that diagnosing food allergies relies on two common tests that don't necessarily give patients the full scope of their allergies, the skin prick test and blood test: "Both tests only measure sensitization," Lanser said. "All they can tell us is how likely you are to react when you eat the food.
That's what makes the oral challenge test such a huge step in determining whether your child may have outgrown their food allergies. The test itself can be daunting, especially for children who may have severe food allergies. Oral challenge tests require that patients consume their allergy trigger food in increasing amounts, under medical supervision. In the event of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, doctors can immediately administer an EpiPen to stop the reaction.
One of the study's senior authors, Carla Davis, a pediatric allergist at Houston's Texas Children’s Hospital, told Reuters that their study not only showed that children can outgrow their food allergies, but that the "gold standard" for allergy testing — oral challenge tests — can safely be performed in a doctor's office. "Parents should know it’s safe in a clinic with a physician that’s skilled in performing oral food challenges," Davis told Reuters. She continued:
The study authors concluded not only are oral food challenges safe when conducted at doctors' offices, they should be the go-to standard to retest a child to see if they've outgrown their food allergies. As one mom of a child with food allergies told Scary Mommy, "It doesn’t matter how old your kid is when you find out he has food allergies, the first thing that goes through your head is; he’s never going to have a normal life."
For parents with children who were diagnosed with a food allergy at a young age, the possibility of having a safe, accurate way to retest those food allergies is a huge relief. Things that were once potentially life-threatening hazards — from children's birthday parties, school snacks, or even dinners out at a restaurant — can now be normalized and enjoyed should these kids outgrow their food allergies.
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