Need for better allergy research

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 15:30 17/05/2012

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Allergies are becoming more common and more complicated, but researchers are at a loss to explain why.

An Australian study has found that more than 10 per cent of one-year-olds have a proven food allergy and in the past 10 years, anaphylaxis had increased more than 350 per cent.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction.  It often affects several parts of the body, including the respiratory system and cardiovascular system and can only be treated with adrenaline.

Allergy NZ says it's likely New Zealand's rate of increase is in line with Australia's.

"There has been little research in New Zealand so we can only estimate prevalence, including any increase, on overseas studies in similar populations and on anecdotal information," Allergy NZ chief executive Penny Jorgensen said.

"On this basis it is likely the prevalence of food allergy has at least doubled in the last decade in New Zealand."

Jorgensen said the increasing complexity of allergies was also a major concern.

She said there were more children with food as well as environmental allergies "which increases the risk of severe reaction and exacerbates symptoms such as eczema".

Many schools had systems in place to protect children from allergies, but Jorgensen said it was impossible for carers and educators to keep up to date without solid research.

"Research is badly needed to determine the extent food allergies impacts on people and how best to help them" said Jorgensen.

"At the moment, most of the burden is unseen because it falls on patients and their families".

She said even diagnosing allergies was difficult in New Zealand due to limited resources, so the full extent was not really known.

The NZ Paediatric Society was expected to issue a consensus statement on the diagnosis and management of food allergy in NZ children this year.

Paediatric Immunologist and Allergy Specialist at Starship Children's Hospital Jan Sinclair said complications with allergies were getting harder to deal with.

"We are seeing more children with food allergies that persist into adolescence, and more children with multiple allergies or allergy to unusual combinations of foods.  The management of these problems is made more difficult by their relatively recent increase.  

"Therefore many centers do not have well established services to meet the needs of these children and their families," she said.

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