Asthma and lung function in children is associated with food allergy

Food allergy and lung function at six years.

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Food allergies are a common health concern, particularly among infants and young children. Over the past few decades, the prevalence of food allergies has been increasing worldwide. These allergies can manifest in various ways, with respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms the most prominent.

Emerging research has begun to explore potential connections between food allergies and the development of other respiratory conditions, such as childhood asthma and reduced lung function. This study investigates the association between food allergy in infancy and the subsequent risk of childhood asthma and its impact on lung function.

A groundbreaking study by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found a significant association between food allergies in infancy and the development of asthma and reduced lung function in childhood. The research, published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, analyzed 5,276 infants from the HealthNuts study in Melbourne, subjecting them to skin prick tests and oral food challenges to confirm food allergies.

By age six, 13.7% of the children had asthma diagnoses, and those with food allergies were almost four times more likely to develop asthma than those without. The impact was more pronounced in children with persistent allergies. Children with food allergies were also more likely to experience reduced lung function.

This pioneering study emphasizes the importance of early identification and management of food allergies to potentially reduce respiratory complications later in life. At the same time, further research is needed to explore underlying mechanisms and validate these significant associations.

Associate Professor Peters said, “Food allergy in infancy, whether resolved or not, was linked to poorer respiratory outcomes in children. This association is concerning given reduced lung growth in childhood is associated with health problems in adulthood, including respiratory and heart conditions.”

Lung development in children is closely associated with their height and weight. Those with food allergies may be shorter and lighter than their peers without, possibly contributing to the link between food allergies and reduced lung function. The development of both food allergies and asthma involves similar immune responses.

Monitoring the growth of infants with food allergies is essential, and children avoiding certain foods due to allergies should be under the care of a dietician to ensure proper nutrition and healthy growth. Food allergies affect 10% of babies and 5% of children and adolescents. Suba Slater’s son, Zane, aged 15, is allergic to eggs, sesame, and peanuts and has asthma.

Suba shared her experience with her son, Zane, who developed eczema as a newborn. Concerned that her diet might be causing the rash while breastfeeding, they took him to the hospital for tests, which confirmed multiple food allergies. Before Zane’s diagnosis, Suba was unaware of the link between food allergies and asthma.

This research highlighting the association is crucial for parents and medical professionals. Suba believes that if they had known about the connection earlier, they would have sought medical help for Zane’s asthma sooner. Zane has participated in food challenges at the Murdoch Children’s, which has helped him tolerate certain allergenic foods better. However, his asthma sometimes complicates his participation, and he needs to undergo spirometry tests before challenges to ensure his lung function is at its best.

The research findings from Murdoch Children’s and the University of Melbourne will aid clinicians in customizing patient care and emphasizing the importance of monitoring respiratory health more closely. For children with food allergies, it is recommended that they receive ongoing management and education from a clinical immunology or allergy specialist. Additionally, clinicians and parents should remain vigilant for asthma symptoms in children with food allergies, as poorly controlled asthma increases the risk of severe food-induced allergic reactions and anaphylaxis.

Journal Reference

  1. Rachel L Peters, Victoria X Soriano et al., Infant food allergy phenotypes and association with lung function deficits and asthma at age six years: a population-based, prospective cohort study in Australia .The Lancet.DOI:10.1016/S2352-4642(23)00133-5.

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