01.08.2015 Nutrition

Rethinking Allergen Avoidance

An early introduction to allergenic foods may help children

Australian parents have long been told to keep egg, peanuts and other allergy-triggering foods out of their little one's diet when they first start solids to help dodge allergies. But now researchers are investigating the possibility that early introduction of these foods may actually be helpful in allergy prevention.

Almost one in 10 Australian children are allergic to eggs, one of the highest egg allergy rates in the world.

A specialist children's allergy clinic was opened in late July at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney. Paediatric allergist at the institute, Dr John Tan said, statistically, rates of food allergy were much lower in countries in South East Asia and the Middle East. "One of the things that differs in these countries is that they tend to introduce allergenic foods earlier rather than avoiding them. We don't yet know if the early introduction is the reason for their lower allergy rates, or whether something else is at play."

Allergic disease is a major problem in Western countries where rates have been rising dramatically since the mid 20th century. Australia has one of the highest allergy prevalence rates in the world. Up to 40 per cent of kids have evidence of allergic sensitisation and may go on to develop asthma, eczema, hay fever and allergies to foods like egg, peanuts, milk and wheat.

Research is underway worldwide to investigate the issue, with Dr Tan being the primary investigator of a large study carried out by the Children's Hospital at Westmead looking at the prevention of egg allergy through the early introduction of egg.

"We hope to show that early egg exposure will result in a decrease in egg allergy," Dr Tan says.

"I'm always looking to improve quality of life for these young families. Too often we see parents who haven't gone out for dinner for years because they're scared of what their child might be exposed to, but you don't need to live like that."

He believes it is important to educate parents regarding allergies, and to address allergy misinformation. Dr Tan hopes that providing parents with sound information and understanding of their child's allergies will result in improved compliance and quality of life for their families.

Allergies in Australia - Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014 data

Almost four million Australians report avoiding a food type because of allergy or intolerance About 560,000 Australian children aged between two and 18 years have an allergy or intolerance Girls are more likely than boys to be susceptible to allergies, especially to gluten and dairy allergies Boys are more likely to have a peanut allergy. This allergy affects 71,000 boys compared with only 39,000 girlsThe most common allergic foods are: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish