Food allergies? Think again

Food allergies? Think again
Nine-year-old Sage Tan in his living room with his toy car collection. He had tested positive for a string of allergies when he was younger, including salmon, tuna, scallops, walnuts and prawns. The orange bracelet he wears indicates his allergies. However in recent tests, he was found to be allergic only to egg white.

Many parents are needlessly cutting out food such as nuts and milk from their child's diet for fear that eating such products will spark an allergic reaction.

A study by National University Hospital (NUH) found that most children thought to have a food allergy do not have one.

From 2008 to 2010, the hospital put 58 children with a median age of six through 197 "food challenges".

This is a test that is done under the supervision of medical staff to determine which food, and how much of it, can spark an allergic reaction in a person.

In the study, the children were given items that they had avoided for a variety of reasons. These include a belief that they were allergic to them and results of previous medical tests which showed that they had a food allergy.

But the children passed nearly all the tests - results of 95 per cent of the food challenges, which featured nuts, egg, milk, soya and fish, turned out to be negative.

Only 10 children had mild reactions which were easily treated with antihistamine medication.

WRONG ASSUMPTIONS

This means that most of the time, the food items were being unnecessarily avoided, said Associate Professor Lynette Shek, who heads the division of paediatric allergy, immunology and rheumatology at NUH.

"The perception is high, but the reality is low," said Prof Shek, who led the study.

One problem, she said, is that parents often link a wide array of symptoms to an allergy.

For instance, a child may vomit or develop a headache after eating something.

Some parents may blame such observations on an allergy when it may not be the case. In fact, an allergic reaction often triggers not just one but several symptoms at the same time.

For instance, the person may be hit with a combination of rashes and breathing difficulties.

In another common scenario, a child with an allergy to peanuts may be asked to avoid all kinds of nuts too, said Prof Shek.

While many children tend to outgrow their allergies, the fear can still persist, she said.

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