Monday, May 17, 2010

Food Allergies in the News

Last week was a very busy week for food allergy news.  The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a new study in their May 12th issue that was picked up by a ton of major news outlets including my own local paper. The objective of the study as written in the article, "Diagnosing and Managing Common Food Allergies", was to review all available evidence regarding the prevalence, diagnosis, management and prevention of food allergies.  Using 72 pre-qualified studies indexed between 1988 and 2009, the conclusion was made that "the evidence for the prevalence and management of food allergy is greatly limited by the lack of uniformity of criteria for making a food allergy diagnosis, severely limiting conclusions about best practices for management and prevention." Wow....tell me something I didn't know!  Sorry, just a little sarcasm there.

Here are a few of my thoughts from combing through the various news articles related to the JAMA study.  The study concludes that 1 to 2 percent of the population have a food allergy, but not more than 10%.  The JAMA abstract states that "it is unclear if the prevalence of food allergies is increasing."  Ever ask yourself why it is that you didn't know anyone with a food allergy growing up, nor do you or your spouse have a food why is it your child does?  Not very scientific, but I'd conclude that food allergies have increased over the last 10 years!

Another study conclusion was that food challenges, skin prick tests and blood tests for IgE are all valuable in diagnosing a food allergy, however there is not just one test that can be solely recommended to use by itself or even over the other.  Again, there's no surprise there.  Our poor kids are being pricked and poked, and yet we still don't know the true severity of their reaction....unless of course they've actually had one that's rushed us to the hospital! 

Here's another finding, "immunotherapy is promising but data are insufficient to recommend use."  Speaking as a mother with a daughter participating in a sublingual immunotherapy clinical trial, how can a study recommend not using a "promising" therapy simply because data is insufficient.  If it looks promising, then wouldn't you think that the recommendation would be for more people to participate in these types of trials so that a more conclusive finding can be published??

And my last comment, it turns out they found there to be no universally accepted definition for "food allergy" leaving the public in a state of confusion regarding the difference between food intolerances, food allergies, and life-threatening food allergies.  I think we'd all have to agree that there is a general lack of appreciation for the risk that our children live with on a daily basis doing something as routine as eating a meal.

The upside of the study is that The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded it, is working on guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergies to be released this fall. If the average, non-allergic reader took the time to read the articles, then all of the press that circulated last week did a good job of raising food allergy awareness.  I thought CNN Health wrote a particularly good article.  Regardless of how good the article is though, with headlines like "Doubt is Cast on Many Reports of Food Allergies" from The New York Times, or "Are Your Food Allergies for Real?  Many Mistakenly Think They are Allergic" by abc NEWS  there is a downside if a reader stops there.

I can truly appreciate how wonderful it would be to find out that your mild food allergy doesn't require a strict elimination of that food from your diet, or that after all this time, you don't have a food allergy at all.  But...please, please...don't muddy the water for those that do have a severe, life threatening allergy!!