Doctors are alarmed by a rapid rise in food allergies in Australian children, with one in 10 babies now having allergic reactions as soon as they are exposed to some foods such as egg.
Ahead of its national conference in Perth today, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy says more research is needed into why more people, especially children, have allergies and immune diseases.
A fifth of Australians have an allergic disease, including asthma, and the number is rising.
Society president, Perth immunologist Richard Loh, said allergy clinics had long waiting lists of very young children to be assessed for life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis.
The problem was worse in Australia than in other Western countries, with hospital admissions for food-related anaphylaxis up fourfold in the past 20 years.
But the cause was unclear.
"Food-induced anaphylaxis has doubled in the past 10 years, and 10 per cent of infants are now presenting with an immediate food allergy," Professor Loh said.
"Not long ago, it was 2 or 3 per cent of infants with food allergies, and if talking about any other condition, you would describe the 10 per cent we're now seeing as an epidemic."
The society will today launch the Allergy and Immunology Foundation of Australasia to fund research into disorders affecting the immune system.
Professor Loh said experts needed better information to advise parents about when to start babies on certain foods.
Some guidelines advised giving babies foods such as egg after four months, but others said to delay solid food for six months.
Melissa Loh knows how frightening it is to have a child with severe allergies. When her daughter Michelle was a baby, she started swelling after eating a plain biscuit.
Doctors found she was allergic to egg, nuts and dairy foods.
Michelle, now seven, carries an adrenaline EpiPen to treat anaphylaxis but has not used it. Mrs Loh's home is nut and egg-free and Michelle has her own cutlery.