Thumb-sucking, diapers, and baby talk are outgrown at some point by most children. So what about outgrowing food allergies?
Allergies are the result of the immune system gone awry, when the body mistakenly believes a food to be dangerous and overreacts to protect itself. Food allergies can be short-lived or can last a lifetime. Today, there are more kids with food allergies, fewer kids are outgrowing them, and for those who do outgrow them, it’s happening later in life. Food allergies that are outgrown may even resurface later in life. It would be great if food allergies were like a Houdini act and we could make them disappear! Sometimes food allergies are a guessing game, but we know of a number of factors that we think influence food allergy longevity and when a child outgrows them. Here are just a few standouts.
- The Food Culprits
There seems to be a pecking order to outgrowing food allergies. Milk, eggs and soy tend to be outgrown more easily and earlier than allergies to nuts and seafood. Research findings point to the easy breakdown of milk and egg proteins in food preparation, especially in baking as the dry heat is able to break down the proteins. Other food proteins are built tougher, are more resistant to breakdown, and are thus more allergenic even after cooking.
- Mean Genes
Ethnicity, gender, and genetics may impact whether and when you see diminishing or disappearing food allergies. Odds are stacked against African American children, females, children with multiple food allergies, those with more severe food allergic reactions, and those with food allergy that develops later in life.
- Location, location, location!
Where you live may play a role in your allergy profile too. This may be associated with different environments and eating habits of your home and neighborhood. Southern living in America may find you more prone to developing allergies than your Northern countrymen, and urban dwellers may be more prone to allergy than their rural counterparts.
Treatment, testing and tolerance
Approaches abound for tolerance testing and even inducing tolerances to certain allergies. Following are a few of the trending tests and tolerance inducing approaches. These should always be conducted under medical supervision, as potential for severe reactions is possible.
- Under the tongue
Known as sublingual or oral immunotherapy (SLIT or OIT), this is a method associated with allergy testing and may also be effective in building tolerance to certain foods. A small amount of offending food is placed under the tongue or in the mouth and reaction monitored. Ask your allergy care team if this is an option for you.
- Bites of baked goods
Sometimes called the baked good challenge, children are given samples of pancakes, muffins and other baked goods with incremental increases in the portion size offered when positive tolerance is demonstrated.
- Early Exposure
Recent research has suggested that offering foods that are common allergens to infants when they are ready to start solid foods may actually help prevent the risk of developing food allergies for some. This is counter to the still common approach of waiting until later ages (1 to 2 years old) to introduce these foods, which may actually increase the risk of developing a food allergy for some individuals, especially those deemed at high risk for food allergies.
Efforts continue to explore the science behind the basis of food allergies as many mysteries remain. Still hard to explain is the who, what, when, why, and where of allergies. As it is, there is no magic pill, potion, or trick that can make food allergies go away. Yes, some children will have their food allergies diminish and disappear and some children will outgrow them. While waiting for Houdini to make them go away for good, there are support and resources that can help.
Consider the following organizations:
- The Food Allergy Research & Education www.foodallergy.org
- The Kids With Food Allergies Foundation http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/
- Strides for Safe Kids http://www.stridesforsafekids.org/
What has your family’s experience been with outgrowing food allergies?
-Jody L. Benitz, MS, RDN
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NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel, Boyce JA, Assa’ad A, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy in the United States: report of the NIAID-sponsored expert panel. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010;126(6 Suppl):S1-S58.
Gupta RS, Springston EE, Warrier MR, et al. The prevalence, severity, and distribution of childhood food allergy in the United States. Pediatrics. 2011;128(1):e9-e17.
Food Allergy Sensitization — New Study Finds Geography Plays a Role. By Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD.Today’s Dietitian, July 2014, Vol. 16 No. 7 P. 12.