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Study: Food allergies affect 1 in 13 kids in US

June 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
More children than previously thought have food allergies. A new report finds food allergies may affect nearly six million American kids. The allergic reactions are often severe and many kids affected are allergic to more than one food.

Five-year-old Skylar Jefferson's itchy eczema is so horribly distracting, he can't sleep.

"I itch and I want to have a good night's sleep too," said Skylar.

The eczema is just part of Skylar's many severe allergic reactions to food. At six months old, Skylar ended up in the ER after an allergic reaction to cheese. Then his mom discovered he couldn't eat wheat, eggs, nuts, beef, berries and all dairy.

"I want to drink milk and eat all the other stuff that my mom and everybody else eat," said Skylar.

Skyler is an extreme case, but a new report in the journal Pediatrics finds there are a growing number of kids like him. Scientists used to think it affected 3 to 6 percent of children, but the new study of more than 40,000 children in the U.S. found that one in 13 has some kind of food allergy, or 8 percent.

Among children with this condition, the top three allergens are peanuts, milk and shellfish. Scientists found high rates of food allergies in African Americans, Asians and the affluent.

"But that's been a pretty constant finding in other studies as well that you seem to see a slightly higher rate of food allergies in people who have higher incomes," said Dr. Ronald Ferdman, a pediatrician and allergist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Pediatricians have changed the recommendations on how parents should feed young children.

"New recommendations are not to hold off on high risk foods such as nuts and seafood in most children because that might be increasing the amount of allergies to those foods," Dr. Ferdman.

Skyler's mom hopes her son's allergies will get better with age, in the meantime she's grateful for any research.

Dr. Ferdman says new parents should understand food allergies are a real possibility and they should keep an eye out for symptoms which include rashes, hives, swelling of the lips and airways. Many of the kids in the study reported these symptoms but were not diagnosed.

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