A number of parents are intentionally exposing food-allergic children to their allergens, sometimes in the misguided belief that either a small amount won’t hurt a child or to “test” whether an allergy had been outgrown.
Those behind this discovery were caught off guard: “We were shocked. We were just floored,” said Kim Mudd of Johns Hopkins University, lead author of the study. “It was quite clear that some of these purposeful exposures were against medical advice.”
Researchers from five leading allergy clinics were trying to get to the motivation behind why 8 percent of 512 families with food-allergic kids had reported in an earlier study that their young children had been purposely exposed to a food allergen. The results from a new questionnaire survey with this group were presented at the 2013 AAAAI annual meeting. Among the 40 families in question (who often gave more than one reason for a food exposure):
• 46 percent reported believing that small exposures to an allergen would not cause symptoms;
• 42 percent experimented with the allergenic food to see if the child’s allergy had resolved;
• 38 percent saw that a child was now tolerating either baked milk or egg and decided to try it in an unbaked form;
• 29 percent said they’d given a food because the child hadn’t had symptoms on a previous exposure;
• 25 percent believed that small exposures would speed the resolution of the allergy;
• 24 percent gave a food because their child’s past reaction hadn’t been severe;
• 15 percent knowingly gave the food because they didn’t believe the diagnosis of food allergy;
• 14 percent thought an allergy test showing decreased IgE antibodies meant the allergy had resolved;
• 8 percent gave the food to “test” the severity of their child’s reaction;
• 4 percent were influenced by something they’d read;
• and 2 percent tried the food at home while waiting for an oral food challenge with the allergist.
The study, funded by the Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR), notes that feeding an allergen to a child is against medical advice; kids with allergies are supposed to avoid their allergen at all times. The researchers concluded that “these purposeful exposures to food reflect potentially dangerous misconceptions about food allergy among parents and other caretakers.”
Next: Who was exposing the children to allergens
Click here to see Allergic Living‘s full coverage of the 2013 AAAAI allergists conference.