Baby Pibu™ is pleased to provide a post by friend and noted author, Melissa Schweiger Kleinman this week! Melissa is an author and journalist specializing in skincare and beauty. Melissa has published articles on health and beauty can be seen in Marie Claire, In Style, Redbook, Shape and New You. As a mom to two young boys, Melissa frequently contributes to parenting websites, including Mom.me, Cool Mom Picks and Elizabeth Street. Melissa has written several books, including Sephora: The Ultimate Guide to Makeup, Skin and Hair from the Beauty Authority and Belli Beautiful: The Essential Guide to the Safest Health and Beauty Products for Pregnancy, Mom and Baby. Her latest book, 101 Acne Tips & Solutions, is an e-book she co-wrote with her brother, noted New York dermatologist Dr. Eric Schweiger. Melissa also writes a weekly blog column on cosmetic dermatology for Dr. Schweiger’s website. Enjoy!
My son’s birthday celebration in kindergarten last year was a bit nerve-wracking. It was my turn to bring in a snack for the class and with that, I was being trusted with some of the children’s lives. With over a quarter of the class suffering from moderate to severe food allergies, ranging from tree nut and peanut to dairy and gluten, I had to be very careful with what I could serve these five-year-olds. EpiPens are just as prevalent in today’s classrooms as number 2 pencils. When I was a kid, over 30 years ago, I was able to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day without anyone panicking and moving me to a separate table.
These tales of scary food allergies are not just happening in my corner of the U.S. Mom friends I have across the country are facing the same issue—whether it’s dealing with restrictions on school lunches due to allergies or facing a severe allergy with their own child, it’s an epidemic that rises every year. There are about 5.9 million kids in the U.S. with food allergies.
I’m also hearing more and more about children with eczema (atopic dermatitis). Eczema afflicts 10-20% of children around the world and, like food allergies, eczema is atopic, meaning that there is a predisposition for producing IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibodies and sensitization in response to environmental triggers. The term “atopic march,” is a newly coined phrase referring to the progression of immune system issues, which begins with eczema in infanthood and often leads to food allergies, asthma and allergic rhinitis later in childhood.
With all the anecdotal evidence of increased allergies, it’s not surprising to hear that in May 2013, the CDC reported that over the past 14 years, food and skin allergy rates have significantly increased. The findings showed that: “Among children aged 0–17 years, the prevalence of food allergies increased from 3.4% in 1997–1999 to 5.1% in 2009–2011. The prevalence of skin allergies increased from 7.4% in 1997–1999 to 12.5% in 2009–2011. Skin allergy prevalence was also higher than food allergy prevalence for each period from 1997–2011.
What is the Cause Behind the Allergies?
There are several theories behind the rise of food allergies and eczema. Heredity plays a big role in both. If parents have allergies, there is a higher likelihood that the child will develop an allergy. Research shows that food allergies are about 70 percent genetic and 30 percent environmental. But new thinking shows there might be other causes to explain for this effect.
- Epigenetics refers to a new division of genetic research that studies the change of gene expression without change of the DNA code itself. Interactions between genes and the environment could lead to overreactions of the immune system. Air pollution, cigarette smoke and exposure to other toxins and chemicals in the environment during pregnancy could increase the risk of childhood allergies through epigenetic modifications. More studies in this area of thought need to be conducted in order to find the root causes of childhood allergies.
- Hygiene Hypothesis is the thought that we as a culture are too antiseptic, and that exposure to certain germs in childhood will strengthen the immune system. “While the increase in allergies over the past few decades is multifactorial, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting we are “too clean,” says Dr. Jennifer Shih, Director of Pediatric Clinics at Emory University. “For instance there are many studies showing that growing up or living in an environment where you are exposed to more allergens such as a farm may be more protective against allergic diseases than living in an environment that is “more clean” like a city.”
Is help on the way?
To many of the parents of children that suffer from allergies, it feels like a hopeless situation in which your child is going to have to live their lives always knowing where the closest hospital is. The good news is, there are things that can be done to help kids that have already developed these allergies as well as for moms-to-be who are worried about their babies being born with life-threatening allergies. So what can be done?
- Oral immunotherapy: This is a new practice of slowly desensitizing children with allergies by giving them very small amounts of the foods they’re allergic to every day until that food is no longer dangerous. Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, as well as other medical centers, have been conducting studies showing children can safely use immunotherapy to become desensitized to a single allergen. Last year, a New York Times article on Dr. Kari Nadeau brought much optimism to parents of children with allergies to multiple foods. Dr. Nadeau has successfully desensitized many children at her Stanford University School of Medicine office from multiple allergens at once.
- Introducing highly allergenic foods earlier: “Studies showed an increase in food allergies in countries where we did not expose babies to particular foods until they were 2 to 3 years old such as the United States versus countries that did expose these foods at a young age,” says Dr. Shih. Now the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics have changed their guidelines to say that highly allergenic foods such as peanut butter, fish and eggs can be introduced to babies between 4 and 6 months and may even play a role in preventing food allergies from developing. “We now suggest feeding children at a young age foods that commonly cause food allergies to hopefully be protective against food allergy in the future,” says Dr. Shih.
By Melissa Schweiger Kleinman