Research Family Nurse Practitioner, Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research
The rate of food allergy diagnosis in the U.S. continues to rise in both the pediatric and adult population. Experts in the field are working hard to identify the causes of and cure for food allergies and have developed a better understanding of the allergic process.
Allergic reactions to food are an immunological response, and one key method for preventing the development of food allergy is to build up the immune system to prevent it from responding inappropriately to food. As the immune system is most pliable early in life, early introduction to a diverse diet is extremely important in food allergy prevention. We now know that infants should be exposed to a wide variety of foods, and particularly the most common foods associated with allergy, early and often.
Preventing allergic reactions
Even with early exposure, allergies can still happen. Proper diagnosis through skin prick testing, blood testing, and oral food challenges is essential for developing an appropriate treatment plan. For anyone with food allergies, food safety is an important part of care. This includes being diligent about reading labels, teaching children not to share food, and communicating allergies to those who need to be aware. Adults who are involved in the care of a child with food allergies should be trained on how to use an EpiPen, including under what circumstances epinephrine should be administered.
The exciting news is that with recent breakthroughs in allergy research, allergen avoidance and emergency epinephrine are no longer the only options for people living with food allergies. A class of biologic drugs known as immune modulators is now being used in conjunction with oral immunotherapy to desensitize the immune system to the allergenic food(s). The goal of oral immunotherapy, with or without biologics, is to allow for allergen exposure without the risk of reaction or anaphylaxis.
Moving forward, scientists are looking to develop new and advanced techniques for diagnosing food allergies, with the ultimate goal of finding a cure.
Jamie Saxena, Research Family Nurse Practitioner, Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research, [email protected]