Do you or a direct family member suffer from any allergies?
Hoping kids will simply "grow out of" allergies is no longer good enough, experts say.
Health professionals are concerned that a worldwide rise in allergies and a shortage of trained specialists has left many New Zealanders struggling to cope.
They say GPs are not well-equipped to deal with allergies, and that the "overwhelmingly unmet medical need" has to be addressed.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of allergies in the developed world, with up to a third of the population suffering atopic allergies such as asthma, eczema, or hay fever.
Food allergies are estimated to affect one in 10 young children.
Allergy New Zealand allergy adviser Penny Jorgensen said allergies were becoming more prevalent worldwide, and the public health system had been "caught out" by the spread.
"The biggest issue for patients is getting access to experts who can diagnose what they are allergic to, and advice on how to manage it. Most GPs are not well-equipped at all."
Allergy specialists, or clinical immunologists, are scant outside Auckland.
Other than a small team at Auckland Hospital and Starship children's hospital, there are only two other immunologists in the country - one at Wellington Hospital and one in Christchurch.
The care of childhood allergies often falls to general paediatricians.
Wellington Hospital immunologist and immunopathologist Richard Steele divides his time between seeing patients, teaching at Otago University, and doing his own research.
"New Zealand is not served well, particularly in the South Island, and rural areas are served very poorly," Dr Steele said.
"A lot of the burden falls to [GPs] and it's something they see a lot of, but they don't have much training - and the immunologists we do have are so busy there isn't much teaching at medical school."
More terrifying diseases, such as cancer, were often given funding priority, but allergies could be equally life-threatening, he said.
As well, many new, effective treatments were not publicly funded.
The Government has given the Malaghan Institute $6.2 million over the next five years to set up a core of specialists to diagnose and treat allergies.
Institute director Professor Graham Le Gros said allergic diseases had been largely neglected as an area of biomedical research.
The past focus had been on how to treat symptoms, with the theory that patients would "grow out of it", he said.
"Unfortunately this strategy has not worked and we have failed to identify whatever changes we have made to our environment, food, [and in] early childhood that has resulted in more and more people becoming seriously allergic."
The research aimed to identify the molecular mechanisms that caused allergic diseases, and develop therapies for treating them.
They would also build a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, clinicians, health workers and support groups.
The public was expected to see the benefit of the work within five years.
'It was a nightmare,' say parents
Leasa Leslie had been assured her child would be fine. So when 18-month-old Conaire started to break out in hives, when her face and ears began to swell and her little heart was thumping out 200 beats a minute, Mrs Leslie couldn't believe it.
She rushed Conaire to Dunedin Hospital, where the child was treated for anaphylactic shock - a life-threatening respiratory and cardiovascular allergic reaction.
Mrs Leslie had taken Conaire to a paediatrician six months earlier, who had diagnosed allergies to dairy food, eggs, tree pollens and dust mites.
Mrs Leslie asked if she should buy an epipen, a medical device used to deliver a measured dose of life-saving epinephrine, and was assured that wouldn't be necessary.
She and husband Ian later figured out that it was a piece of luncheon sausage - which contains dairy - that had put Conaire in hospital.
"It was a nightmare really. They took such a ‘softly, softly' approach despite her already being covered head to toe in eczema - I still don't understand why they didn't take a stronger approach quicker."
Mrs Leslie said doctors in both Dunedin and Wellington, where the family moved last year, had been "horrifically slow" at diagnosing and helping to treat Conaire's allergies.
She had first taken Conaire to see a doctor when she was 3 months old.
"It wasn't until she had an allergic reaction that they were like ‘Oh'."
Conaire's parents would have loved to have seen an allergy specialist. "In the first couple of years, the difference that support would have made would have been immense," Mr Leslie said.
"It's kind of like going to a general mechanic for a problem with your electrics. They can probably fix it, but you'd feel better going to the guy who knows what he's on about."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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