Eight percent of children suffer from food allergies. Researchers followed 500 infants who are allergic to foods like milk, egg and peanuts for four years: 71 percent had allergic reactions and almost all of them were severe.
A majority of the exposures were accidental, either due to unintentional ingestion, reading a label wrong or cross-contamination. But 11 percent of the exposures were on purpose.
"I think doing it without supervision is a little dangerous," said Dr. Martha Rivera, White Memorial Medical Center. Rivera believes many parents are trying to cure their child's food allergies at home. Recent studies have shown sensitizing kids to offending foods might be more helpful than avoidance.
"And the parents probably think, 'Well if they can do this in an office setting, well I'll give it to my child and give them a little bit of the food.' You can't measure how much concentration there is and what reaction the child will actually have," said Rivera.
That's why it should always be done under a doctor's supervision. And when kids have a reaction, the study found too few are being treated appropriately with epinephrine pens, something Dr. Rivera says all patients should have.
"I think some physicians are still shy about prescribing them but it will save a life," said Rivera.
Dr. Rivera reminds us even though a child doesn't have a severe reaction the first time around doesn't mean it won't be worse the second time.
Twenty percent of children do not outgrow their food allergy.
The report is published in the journal Pediatrics.