Food allergies are problems that plague both patients and medical professionals, including medical assistants. Eight food groups account for about 90 percent of food allergy-related reactions: peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, tree nuts, fish, wheat and shellfish.1 According to the Food Allergy Research and Education group, about 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, including 1 in 13 children. 1
Peanut patch shows encouraging results
Researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York reported at the annual American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology meeting that a new skin patch may help protect against peanut allergies. The skin patch desensitizes patients to their allergy by introducing them to small amounts of the allergen.2 According to Dr. Hugh Sampson, director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai.and his fellow scientists, discovered this treatment will lessen the severity of an allergic reaction and will allow those suffering from a peanut allergy to not worry about eating traces of the allergen in restaurants or packaged food.2 After a year, 50 percent of participants wearing the highest dose patch (250 micrograms containing peanut protein) were able to consume the equivalent of four peanuts without a reaction.2
Although, this patch could potentially be a life-saving development for people with food allergies, it may be years before the patch is approved for consumers. However, with unlabeled allergens in food products being the leading cause of food recalls, according to the FDA, the skin patch and its results show promise.3
Genetics play a large role
Something that cannot be prevented are a person’s genes. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says that a child has a 75 percent chance of having an allergy if both parents have it.4 Additionally, if one parent or relatives from one side of the family has allergies, the child has a 50 percent chance of developing them.4
Allergy diagnoses take into consideration a person’s family history, as well as results of a physical exam and sensitivity testing for specific allergens.
Preventive diet could help children’s allergies
According to Dr. Kari Nadeau, the director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford University, introducing certain allergens to a child’s diet can actually prevent food allergies.5 She quoted a 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that showed an early introduction of peanuts decreased the risk of the development of a peanut allergy.5
Scientists around the world are starting to use oral immunotherapy as a way to treat food allergies. By giving patients increasingly larger amounts of an allergen, doctors are able to build up a person’s immunity to certain foods.5
Food allergies affect millions of people around the world. Luckily, scientists are actively researching ways to decrease the symptoms associated with these reactions. For medical health professionals, including medical assistants and pharmacy technicians, it is beneficial to monitor a patient’s allergy and devise a plan that will attempt to eliminate the occurrences of a reaction. With a prescribed allergen plan plus additional research into cures for the condition, health care professionals can help patients avoid triggers.
1“Facts and Statistics” Food Allergy Research and Education” 2015. http://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats
2“Skin patch may protect against life-threatening peanut allergy” Linda Carroll, NBC News, Feb. 22, 2015. http://www.today.com/health/peanut-patch-may-protect-against-life-threatening-allergy-t4671
3“Finding Food Allergens Where They Shouldn’t Be” FDA, Feb. 12, 2015. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm416577.htm
4“Allergy testing for children” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 2005. http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=20&cont=278
5“Millions in the U.S. impacted by food allergies, but a cure may be on the horizon” Cat Wise, PBS NewsHour, May 11, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/diet-food-allergies/