Parents are reporting an increase in skin and food allergies in children, according to a government survey.
Researchers haven’t determined the cause of the increase, but they speculate that children are being raised in extremely clean households, which is leaving them more sensitive to allergens. It could also be that parents pay more attention to reactions and rashes, and often incorrectly label these things as allergies.
Dr. Lara Akinbami, of the CDC and Prevention and the senior author of the report says, “We don’t really have the answer.”
According to the CDC survey, an estimated 1 in 20 American children have allergies to food. This is an increase of 50 percent from the end of the ‘90s. For those with skin allergies and eczema, 1 in 8 children have it. That’s an increase of 69 percent. There was no increase in respiratory allergies such as hay fever.
School nurses are some of the most familiar with the increase in food allergies. They have become even busier tending to allergy-related issues in their schools, including making sure that school parties don’t include peanuts and that the shelves have enough allergy medicine for emergencies.
In severe cases, a food allergy has the potential to cause anaphylactic shock, and in some cases, death can occur when an allergy prone food, such as a peanut, is eaten. Some food allergies tend to be less severe, and many children grow out of them. Additionally, skin allergies can also tend to be temporary and not nearly as severe.
The new report that the CDC released isn’t exact by any means. It surveys thousands of adults in person annually and uses the data. The report has then compared data from 1997 to 1999 and answers from surveys done between 2009 and 2011.
In the survey, parents were asked if, in the last year, their child had experienced any kind of digestive or food allergy, or any skin allergy or eczema, as well as if their child had experienced any type of hay fever or other respiratory allergy. What researchers did not ask was whether doctors had made the diagnosis. Nor did they check medical records to confirm. There is speculation that some parents were expressing personal opinions.
Despite the discrepancies, experts do agree that there is an unexplained rise in food and skin allergies, and many suspect that ultra clean homes actually make children more sensitive to germs, parasites and allergens. The theory suggests that when children are exposed to these potential illness and allergy inducing things early in childhood, it can help to prevent the body from developing some allergies.
Others argue that bigger cities have more air pollutants, and this can be a main trigger for some of the increase in allergies. Others still suggest that it could have to do with the way that foods are produced and grown, such as crossbreeding wheat and antibiotics in cattle and poultry.
Conditions such as eczema were found in lower income families while respiratory allergies were found to be more common in higher income families, but the why of these statistics is not clear.
For parents that do suspect that their child has allergies, it is best to seek medical advice and not make a diagnosis on their own. Since allergies can range in severity, it is always best to be safe if a child experiences a reaction. At worst, it could be a “no big deal” sort of thing.