Their plight is not helped by waiting up to a year to see an allergy specialist, but it seems help is at hand.
For eleven-year-old Drew Holland-McNair mortal danger lies in touching the slightest trace of fish or peanut.
Drew's mum Lisa says her son has the allergic condition anaphylaxis - a condition which kills fifteen Australians each year.More stories from Today Tonight
"Once when Drew was younger he actually walked through a fish store, we thought that would be okay. He didn't touch anything and he broke out in hives," Lisa said.
Dr Richard Loh is the head of immunology at Princess Margaret Children's Hospital and says a severe allergic reaction "is an almost 'dying experience' and people who've undergone it say it's really frightening."
Six-year-old Michelle Loh's allergies were discovered at just six-months-old when mum Mellissa gave her a biscuit.
"We gave her a Milk Arrowroot, thinking every kid has Milk Arrowroots, it's fine, but the problem was there was a huge reaction," Mellissa said.
Michelle is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and egg.
Professor Katie Allen of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute says that "people realy do understand what food allergy is. What we don't understand is why it's on the rise."
The top allergist has discovered Australia's allergy epidemic is worse than we realised.
Her research has revealed as many as ten per cent of children suffer food allergies with genetics, urbanisation and Vitamin D deficiency as possible causes.
"We have some data that the further you live from the equator the more likely you are to have food allergy and that data is replicated in the northern hemisphere as well. I think we are at the point where we need to consider fortification of things like milk in our food chain supply, and when we have the data at hand, then we can go ahead and recommend that," Professor Allen said.
That data is twelve months away and in the meantime the Murdoch Institute is rolling out a program to train paediatricians and GPs in allergy diagnosis and treatment, in an effort to help tackle the allergy epidemic.
"In Australia children are waiting up to a year to see an allergy specialist and this is really not acceptable," Professor Allen said.Nine foods are responsible for 90 per cent of allergic reactions:
- tree nuts - like hazelnuts, cashews or almonds;
- cow's milk;
"Cashews seem to be on the rise - we are seeing more and more cashews in our clinics. Things like kiwi fruit seem to be on the rise and we are certainly finding out more about different types of food as we go forward," Professor Allen said.
Little Drew knows a shot of adrenaline from his EPI pen could save his life. But it's possible he won't live his entire life on a knife's edge with breakthrough desensitisation treatment providing hope for children in the future.
According to Dr Loh "there's a lot of research going on, so essentially it's giving patients small amounts of a food that they're very allergic to and increasing it over a period of weeks and months."
The treatment could allow patients to withstand small amounts of the food they're allergic to, increasing the threshold enough to allow them to tolerate small traces without reacting. The program may help allay the fears of some parents who have been known to trial their children on peanuts in hospital car parks for fear of a reaction.
"I hope within three to five years there'll be a safer way to desensitise patients. I think there is some light at the end of the tunnel," Dr Loh said.Contact details
- Murdoch Childrens Research Institute - www.mcri.edu.au
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