Twenty years ago, food allergies had barely been heard of. Now, they are a $500 million health problem that affects more than 12 million Americans, including three million children. New federal guidelines issued by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will help physicians better diagnose and treat food allergies, according to Karen Demuth, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Emory University School of Medicine, and a physician on staff at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
â€œThe new NIAID guidelines help providers understand food allergies,â€ Demuth says. â€œThey address when we should consider a food allergy and the utility of testing for food allergy. In addition, they address the management of food allergies, including acute reactions and follow-up of individuals with food allergy.â€
The guidelines are comprised of input from a panel of 25 experts and draw the important distinction between food allergies and food intolerances. Food allergies are defined as â€œan adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response hat occurs reproducibly on exposure to a given food.â€ Food intolerances produce an adverse reaction but are likely not related to an immune response.
The most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish and soy. Fortunately, the understanding of food allergies and the best ways to manage them is expanding.
â€œThe gold standard of treatment of food allergies â€“ avoidance â€“ has remained constant throughout the years,â€ Demuth says. â€œThere are new therapies on the horizon such as oral immunotherapy, vaccines and a Chinese herbal extract; however, these therapies are still considered experimental. At the Emory-Childrenâ€™s Center, we are active in research and advocacy in pediatric allergies so that we can bring new treatments to our patients when they are ready for widespread use. We are dedicated solely to the care of children with allergic and immunologic disorders and offer multidisciplinary clinics to offer a specialized level of care.â€